Bosnian singer Ljiljana Buttler is hailed in many quarters as one of the great re-emerged voices of gypsy and Balkan soul and her startlingly low, and darkly evocative voice again astonishes on this collection of sevdalinka and Balkan folk songs.
Buttler’s story is one of two parts. A well-known face on the Yugoslav music scene, she withdrew from performing in the 1980s, supposedly in protest at the dilution of her music by pop hybrids. She re-surfaced, however, in 2002, recording both as a solo artist and with collaborators Mostar Sevdah Reunion, members of which form part of the band on this album.
The opening of Frozen Roses sounds a little like a Tom Waits track with its spare bass line and ominous drum beat. When Buttler sings her first phrase, the low, doom-laden delivery isn’t too far off the great American songwriter either. A sound of loss pervades the album and it is on the opening track, ‘Ne Kuni me, ne ruži me majko’ that this feeling is conveyed most keenly.
Frozen Roses is Buttler’s third record since her re-emergence. The ten tracks mix traditional songs and composed numbers and the music fits loosely into two main styles.
Redolent of café music and with tango inflections, the moderate lilt of songs like ‘Gjelem, Gjelem’ and ‘Hej Romnji Siem’ sway gently to support Buttler’s mournful vocals. These songs naturally support improvisation and there are equally scintillating trumpet, violin and clarinet solos throughout, with the former two instruments solidly squaring with Buttler’s penchant for jazz and the blues. The scintillating clarinet solo on ‘Gypsy Lullabye’ meanwhile, looks to the east and the Ottoman influences so strong in Bosnian culture.
In contrast to the sevdah songs, gypsy ballads like ‘Sumorna Nedelja’ (a version of the famous ‘Gloomy Sunday’) are slow paced in their introspection leave Buttler space to plum the depths of her voice and soul.
Along with her Mostar Sevdah Reunion colleagues, Buttler is often billed as the sound of reconciliation in her homeland (the town of Mostar and its famous bridge was ravaged in the war). Whatever the truth in that, there is no doubt Buttler is true star – her music is deeply traditional yet it draws from a blend of jazz and eastern influences to perfection.