Joining the ranks of the internationally acclaimed Kitka and the underground supergroup Charming Hostess, a cappella quintet Jou Jou is the latest estrogen-powered vocal combo from the Bay Area to personalize the planet's rich folk-song traditions. The band's debut album, Lilt
spans a wide range of material, largely culled from Eastern Europe (Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Bulgaria), but also including bits from Greek Rom (Gypsy), Laz (related to Georgian), Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), Turkish, and Appalachian cultures. Of course, embracing diversity's exotic allure and integrating its beauty into one's own sound are the hallmarks of the San Francisco music scene, particularly within the globe-trotting community from which Jou Jou draws its inspiration. So what distinguishes these singers from their celebrated peers? Curiously, the simplicity and succinctness of their approach.
While Kitka's arrangements often involve a good deal of depth and harmonic development, and Charming Hostess uses folk tunes as a springboard for its sprawling altrock innovations, Jou Jou largely maintains a straightforward focus on the melodic core of a given piece, sweetening it with honeyed harmonies that feel natural. This method yields catchy, concise performances -- the CD's 14 tracks total just 27 minutes -- which provide a compelling overview of the various song styles and their interconnectedness (and thus their connection to the world at large). Despite its somewhat fleeting quality, Lilt evokes the haunting otherness of its sources yet sounds both original and comfortably familiar.