This fantastic slab of vinyl gets my vote for best album of 2007. Naturally, the music on this record isn't from 2007 but instead more or less contemporary with the year of my birth, 1973. This period may not have been the best of musical times for rock in the US and UK if you like what I like, but in many other parts of the world, the changes ushered in by the 1960s were still being felt.

I've been impressed thus far with recordings by Hungarian artists from the 1960s and 1970s that I've had the opportunity to hear. Since the country has one of the most distinctive cultures in Europe (at least from my American perspective), it should come as no surprise that their musicians are similarly idiosyncratic.

Sarolta Zalatnay (born as Charlotte Sacher in Budapest in 1947) ranks as one of the most important entertainers from that era. Although best known as a singer during her salad days, to acknowledge Cini (the nickname by which she is affectionately known to her fans back home) strictly for her vocal talents ignores her exploits as pianist, actress, fashionista, writer, 54-year-old Playboy model, ex-convict, and cancer survivor, not to mention the fact that she has been one of the most ubiquitous celebrities in Hungary during the last 50 years. This eponymous LP's absorbing liner notes provide plenty of details for those interested in a more complete overview of her life story.

Sarolta Zalatnay assembles the crème de la crème of Cini's album and single tracks from the extremely fruitful 1970-1974 period of her recording career. As a performer at the forefront of hipness, she released material that usually achieved popular success but also occasionally proved to be too ahead of its time. Regardless of their commercial impact, the 16 tracks on this LP display an astonishing degree of variety made possible by Zalatnay's prowess as a vocalist as well as the accompaniment of some of Hungary's most significant rock groups such as Metro, Omega, Locomotiv GT, and Skorpio. Many writers have noted the perceived similarities between Sarolta and Janis Joplin. While I'll concede a superficial resemblance, Zalatnay displays greater range and versatility while generally avoiding the screeching histrionics that came to define her American counterpart.

The songs on this album fall into four categories, with Cini modeling each style as elegantly as the early 1970s designer fashions for which she was equally famous. Her rock side is well represented by "Itt A Nyar" ("Summer's Here"), "Ki Tiltija Meg" ("Who Does Prohibit It"), the admittedly Joplin-ish "Rogos Uton" ("That Bumpy Road"), "Sracok Oh Sracok" ("Kids Oh Kids"), "Fekete Beat" ("Black Beat"), "Keso Esti Oran" ("Late Night Hour"), "Fekete Arnyek" ("Black Shadow"), and "Oh Ha Milliomos Lennek" ("Oh If I Were a Millionaire"), performances that are at times heavy and at others derivative of sounds from late-1960s Swinging London.

Three of Zalatnay's collaborations with Skorpio - "Egyser" ("Once"), "Hadd Mondjam El" ("Let Me Tell"), and "Ne Hidd El" ("Don't Believe") - offer this collection's most surprising pleasures, wah-wah and breaks-laden cuts best described as Magyar funk. White musicians seldom get down as convincingly as they do here. Woodwinds, bongos, and soaring strings dominate the the ethereally folky "Muanyag Almok" ("Plastic Dreams"), "Adj Egy Percet" ("Give Me a Minute"), and "Az Idok Peremen" ("On the Rim of Time"). The beauty of Cini's voice comes through clearly on these songs even if you don't understand a word of Hungarian. And for those seeking mind expansion, "Egy Szot Se Szolj" ("Speak Not a Word") and "Zold Borostyan" ("Green Ivy") deliver the psychedelic goods in spades and feature some astounding guitar work, presumably supplied by Metro's frontman Zorán Sztevanovity.

Tracklist:

A1. Itt A Nyár
A2. Egyser
A3. Münanyag Álmok
A4. Egy Szót Se Szólj
A5. Hadd Mondjam El
A6. Ki Tiltja Meg
A7. Rögös Úton
A8. Zold Borostyán
B1. Adj Egy Percet
B2. Sracok Oh Sracok
B3. Fekete Beat
B4. Ne Hidd El
B5. Késö Esti Órán
B6. Fekete Árnyek
B7. Óh Ha Milliomos Lennék
B8. Az Idök Peremén