Steven R. Smith's journey as Hala Strana has been nothing short of remarkable over the last few years. The journey he takes the listener is only superceded by the destination. Inside and out, Hala Strana's compositions are rich, lifelike, and magical. There is so much vivid imagery crammed within its aural walls that often, one experiences sensory overload. But this is a strength, never a weakness. Few projects put you in a place so distant from your own life like Hala Strana. This is Eastern Europe defined. This is the musical heart of a place so regularly forgotten by most people in the West. Smith shrouds himself in a gypsy cloak and acts as your spiritual guide through the soul of this mystic region.
Last Visible Dog has done many wonderful reissues as of late, but none match the sheer brilliance of "Fielding." I urge everyone reading this to email Chris Moon to simply say "Thank You." This two-CD set was originally released in an ultra-limited edition on Jewelled Antler. It is an opus of monumental proportions. Everything about "Fielding" is carefully chosen and put in the exact place it should be. There is a metaphysical aspect to this... something truly spiritual. If "Fielding" has a perfect form some place beyond, Smith has fully realized it. He has taken that form and shattered it to pieces, blowing any and all expectations away that could have ever been placed on him or this project.
Over the course of nearly two hours, you become fully entrenched in the villages of Hungary, Macedonia, Bulgaria, etc. Using a diverse array of instrumentation and a massive collection of field recordings and samples from traditional Eastern European folk music, Smith's approach is to turn ghosts from the past into voices of the present. Between these found sounds is his original interpretations and compositions. Without the liner notes, one wouldn't know where the samples end and the originals begin. It is a testament to how much Smith feels this music; a testament to how important it is to him.
At times, "Fielding" is overwhelmingly dense. It's like being stuck in a thicket with no escape path in sight. You begin to worry, thinking that nothing good could surely come from this. It is only when you hear meadow larks overhead and feel the warm breeze on your skin that you realize, everything is fine. "Fielding" is richly organic and subtly comforting. Each strained, archaic note feels like that chipped bannister from your youth. This is the place where you feel most at home. Smith's compositions emit so much warmth that it's like a summer in a bottle. Everything about "Fielding" works together so that the individual pieces and songs contribute to a whole that is so much greater than the sum of its parts.
Two hours is a lot of music, but do not be intimidated. Within the first five minutes, you will be sucked into Hala Strana's world. "Fielding" will act as a vortex from which you cannot escape. But trust me, you won't want to. I cannot stress how essential this epic release is. If you buy one CD in 2005, make sure it is "Fielding." It is so many things that even after 100 listens, you will still find something new. It is a remarkable experience that never slows down or gets old. This is the stuff of legend. 10/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)