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Erkin Koray
S/T (World Psychedelia) CD
Tutkusu (Underground Masters) CD

 With his innovative synthesis of traditional Turkish musical forms and western rock ‘n’ roll, guitarist and singer Erkin Koray was a towering figure in the incredibly rich Turkish psych scene of the sixties and seventies. In recent years, his reputation outside Turkey has grown exponentially thanks to a number of reissues (some more surrupticious than others, but things are always somewhat murky), particularly the reissue of his amazing second album, Elektronik Türküler (Electronic Ballads) from 1974, which was met with extravagant critical praise.

The past few months has seen the reissue of a pair of Koray releases from disparate moments in his long, storied career: his self-titled full-length debut from 1973 on World Psychedelia and his fourth album, 1977’s Tutkusu on the Underground Masters label. The first of these has been available on CD before (the Turkish label, Istanbul Plak, released a version with new, quite horrible cover art and a different tracklisting just last year), but this version on World Psychedelia is truer to the original and also has solidly informative liner notes and an excellent collection of bonus material. The record itself is essentially a collection of Koray 45s, recorded from 1968 to 1973, and, as such, it’s a musical hodgepodge from an artist who already mixed styles with skilled abandon. Encompassing everything from the wild, Anatolian surf guitar of “Cicek Dagi” to the beautiful, slo-mo psych balladry of “Yagmur,” Erkin Koray is a wonderfully strange trip that even a rollicking Turkish-language version of one of my least favorite songs, “Land of 1000 Dances” cannot derail. Elektronik Türküler may be a more cohesive album, but this one is my personal favorite. If I could have only one Erkin Koray record, this would be my choice.

Although Tutkusu was conceived as a proper album rather than a collection of previously released singles, it is similarly stylistically varied; however, it is also a much more uneven, even schizophrenic record. There are moments of pure rock genius, such as the Black Sabbath via Istanbul scorcher “Cümbür Cemaat,” which finds Koray in top vocal and instrumental form. There are also some wonderfully strange interludes and extended jams along the way. Unfortunately, there are also some rather perfunctory, uncharacteristically straight songs on the record, as well as a pair of rather cringe-worthy English-language tracks (“My Delight” and “Blond Men”). Yet, in spite of its shortcomings, Tutkusu’s strengths do outweigh its weaknesses. It’s certainly not the place to start exploring the wonders of Turkish psych’s leading light, but it’s the Koray record to have when you’re having more than one.

 

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