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Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008

John Kruth

Splitsville (Smiling Fez)

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  The minor-key sound of the Middle East was long embedded in the Balkans and carried westward by the Crusaders, eventually making its way to Appalachia with the earliest British settlers. Meanwhile it traveled to the Islamic kingdoms of West Africa and was transported to the New World with the slaves.

  Somehow, one-time Milwaukeean John Kruth brings it all together on his newest CD. Inspired by his journey to Croatia and featuring a gaggle of Croat, Milwaukee and New York musicians, Splitsville is also a rare combination of heartfelt and clever as it merges the balladry of half-a-dozen nations into a coherent sound, rediscovering links between Balkan accordions, psychedelia, old-time country and the blues.

  Brilliant and insightful, Kruth's songwriting maintains a respectful posture on the cusp where past meets present and sonic continents converge. In an especially remarkable example of his deeply felt cross-references, "The Lone Croatian General" transposes the story of that rarity, an honest leader during the bloody Yugoslav civil war, into a banjo-plucked ballad that both the Carter Family and Woody Guthrie would have been proud to call their own.