When I was going to record my album Balancing Act, I was researching Russian folk songs, looking for less obvious and popular and more authentic tunes, and my friend Yura Morozov sent me a recording that immediately took my breath away. The song called Rechka (The River) belonged to a catalog of Russian folk songs collected by Sergei Starostin, a well known contemporary folk singer specializing in "field research" --going to the remote villages, talking to old people and giving new life to old songs that were passed from mother to daughter for centuries.
The original recording was eight or nine minutes long and editing it made me think of the inevitable changes that would occur in the process of passing the song through generations of singers. The winter nights must have been so incredibly long and boring in rural Russia centuries ago, that singing probably was one of the few forms of entertainment, resulting in the song's elaborate details and repetitions--they had to kill time somehow! And here I am--trying to tailor this old song to our fast-paced world, where an attention span of four minutes is a lot to ask for. I thought that it made poetic sense for me to make these changes, because in another way I became another link in the chain of people giving it new qualities (or taking away some extra ones). For a moment it made me feel like I became part of Russian "folk" in sculpting the song.
Like a lot of Russian folk songs, Rechka dealt with death, which was such a popular subject due to an old belief that the sorrow that you sing about will not happen. The river is deep and wide and the only way to cross it is to walk on a small wooden plank. Three sisters try to cross the river breaking the plank, and the oldest sister drowns. The rest of the song is the dead sister's monologue; she's addressing her brother asking him not to walk on the banks of the river because it's what became of her chest, not to stomp the silky grass which is her hair, not to muddle the waters that used to be her blood, etc. The pagan beliefs that the objects in a place where a loved one has perished take on the properties of his/her physical body have created this hauntingly beautiful ballad that I was happy to include on my album Balancing Act.