Steven R. Smith - "Hala Strana"
(Emperor Jones 2003, ej59cd)

Uploaded to Aural Innovations: November 2003

Hala Strana is the summation of Smith's interest in the traditional village folk music of Central and Eastern Europe, though this is not an attempt to preserve folk music traditions. Instead, Smith has loosely borrowed the melodies, scales, and approaches of the traditional music and stirred them into a mesmerizing, trancey, and extremely appealing and creative stew of psychedelic instrumental rock and folk music.

Smith utilizes both the traditional instruments of rock such as guitar, bass, and drums as well as more unusual instruments such as melodica, clay flowerpots, gourd guitar, harmonium, harpsichord, violin, glockenspiel, accordion, cello, and bottles to craft his unique vision. He even uses the squeaking wheels of a shopping cart to astonishing and eerie effect on the song Stria.

While nothing on Hala Strana has a traditional song structure, the pieces are not murky ambient soundscapes either. Each song has itís own distinctive feel, and there are even some great melodic hooks, such as on the dark and dignified harmonium of Streets of Raised Platforms, the swooping cello drones and buzzing acoustic plucking of Brickwork and Scoria, and the lazily swinging rhythms and lonely violin of Stouthrief. As experimental as the music is, Smith imbues it with an accessibility that reels the listener in, captivating and enchanting with both its cerebral intrigue and its emotional impact. Highly recommended!

For more information, visit the Emperor Jones web site at:, where you can also download an mp3 of Streets of Raised Platforms, one of my favorite tracks off the album.
Visit the Steven R. Smith web site at:
Email at:

Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald

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