17 Hippies, Heimlich (Buda Musique, 2007)

17 Hippies are not the kind of band that's easy to describe or explain. There aren't actually seventeen of them, and they don't really look like hippies either (although some of them look old enough that they could easily have been hippies back in the day). Still the band is quite large, with thirteen members coming from different countries and different musical backgrounds. A number of them, both male and female, take turns handling vocals sung in German, French, and English. You'll hear plenty of accordions and banjos on their latest album Heimlich, but you'll also hear winds, horns, a Jew's harp, an African thumb piano, and even a singing saw. To call the band eclectic would be a huge understatement, but if eclectic is what you want then you'll have a blast listening to this.

The album is bookended by a pair of frenetic Balkan pieces -- Golden Fest tunes, as I like to call them. I've actually heard part of the melody for the last tune, a Romanian instrumental called "Rustemul," on an album by the Brooklyn gypsy band Romashka. Most of Heimlich is more laid back than that, though, with styles ranging from Mariachi to tango to bluegrass to French cabaret and lots of other things in between. None of the tracks really have a big band sound, so I get the sense that the band members don't all play on each tune. 17 Hippies aim for simplicity and catchiness in their arrangements, and generally hit their mark. My favorite track is the irresistible "Tick Tack," which will have you singing along even if you don't know any German. The diversity of styles only added to the enjoyment; as you listen, you'll sit there wondering what they'll come up with next.

While 17 Hippies come across as more of a music co-op than a band, that does not diminish the quality of their work. Heimlich came at me in more directions than I could count, but it was all light and catchy, and a clear reflection of how much fun making music can be.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

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