Fanfare Ciocarlia Queens and Kings

One of the best Balkan brass bands, Fanfare Ciocarlia have upped their profile recently by recording with A Hawk and A Hacksaw. Queens and Kings furthers their fusion tendencies while staying true to their roots, resulting in their best and slickest work to date. The production is fascinating — there’s reverb on everything! If similar amounts of ’verb were slathered over a rock production it would be a Bon Jovi record but somehow, the bombast works. This album endeavours to fuse two offshoots of Gypsy culture: Gitane guitars and Balkan brass. These days, the Gipsy Kings style of high-octane flamenco is about as un-hip as it gets but Fanfare Ciocarlia pull off the experiment with aplomb. At their best, as on the superb "Cuando Tu Volveras,” the flamenco and brass impulses are seamless. The guitars weave an atmospheric pattern around the bubbling tubas and euphoniums, and the whole is driven by a rock solid reggaeton backbeat — this is world beat in the best sense. FC have also bumped up the funk factor, from the disco-style drums on "Duj Duj” to judicious uses of shakers and other percussive accents, which leavens the "oom pah” factor. As usual, the soloing is speedy and impressive. Some aspects don’t work, however — there should be a worldwide ban on covers of "Born To Be Wild” and one vocalist sounds like a chirpy Kanye West sample throughout. Nevertheless, there is much to confound and enjoy on this disc, easily their best record yet.