Forget the overpriced cards and flowers, the impossible-to-get dinner reservations and all the other corporate-created guilt-induced expressions of affection this Valentine’s Day. Instead, look back to a more innocent, freer time and serenade your sweetheart with song. Here’s a real mood-setter for you:
Oh, sorry, let me translate:
And what has become of all my joy?
Who will I now be picking nuts with?
Romantic, ain’t it? Well, that’s “Uwiedziona Dziewczyna,” which translates as “The Cheated Girl.” The Polish ditty, recorded in 1928 by Chicago-based immigrant ensemble the Franciszek Dukli Wijska Band, is one of the highlights of Aimer et Perdre, a two-CD set of songs addressing the complexities of love. Love and loss.
“With joy and exuberance comes sorrow and regret,” writes Christopher King in the liner notes, summing up these recordings compiled from his own collection of 78s, made in the 1920s and ‘30s largely by Eastern European-originated, Cajun and rural blues artists.
“Many of the songs in this collection convey the deep despair of abandonment and loss as if the only precondition of our being is our ability to suffer, to hold multitudes of contradictions such as regretting having done and not done the same thing at different times and under different conditions,” he adds.
And so in this package (being released by the great archival label Tompkins Square on, of course, Valentine’s Day) we get, in Cajun French, the set’s opening/title track, recorded in 1929 by Louisiana legends Joe & Cleoma Falcon, the very first lines of which, translated, are:
Oh dear little one, I loved you!
I lost you by wandering on the roads.
See what I have done to myself, sweet one.
If that’s not Hallmark-ready, what is?
And we get (in English) the Carter Family’s famed “I Never Will Marry,” Emry Arthur’s “She Lied to Me” and Dock Boggs‘ “False Hearted Lover’s Blues.” And when Cajun singer-accordionist Moise Robin, in duo with fiddler Leo Soileau, declares “Je Veux Marier (I Want to Marry),” he can’t because he’s flat broke!
Not that it’s all the dark side of the mooning here. For one thing, the music is lively and engaging, even when the words are most despairing. And since you won’t understand much of the lyrics anyway, you can make of it what you will.
And, arguably, the real treasures of this collection are several songs and dances from Eastern European weddings and, best of all, song-skits depicting the elaborate wedding scenes and ceremonies, which King says were largely targeted to the dislocated immigrant communities in the U.S. There’s the two-part “Ukrainske Wesilla w Ameryci” by the Ukrainska Orchestra Pawla Humeniuka from 1928, portraying the welcoming of the guests and the arrival of the happy couple at the post-wedding party.
Then there’s “Cyganske Vesilia (A Lemko Wedding)”, parts 2 and 3 which cut right to the, uh, chase. In this sequence from the extended Polish nuptials in a Carpathian village, the musicians serenade the couple as they are put to bed before the family and guests get on with their boisterous revels, leaving the newlyweds to attend to, well, whatever. As they are bid good night, the singer addresses the bride:
May you stay healthy my lady
We used to collect hazel nuts together.
What, again with the nuts?
(You can listen to all of disc 1 here.)