"Oh, Cini, how little we knew ye. Literally. Sarolta Zalatnay, better known in her home country of Hungary as Cini, never really made it over to America in, well, any capacity. Being Hungary’s #1 pop star for a number of years, both the desire and the ability simply weren’t there. But in listening to this self-titled collection of some of her finest moments, it’s hard not to imagine an alternate reality where (with some English language versions, natch) that Cini could’ve been welcome over here as the second coming of Janis Joplin.
That idea is helped out considerably by the final track on Sarolta Zalatnay, in which Cini takes on Joplin’s classic “Move Over.” Cini provides a reasonable facsimile, even if she isn’t quite as full-throated about it. The charms on Sarolta Zalatnay aren’t always down to Cini’s brassy voice, though. Oftentimes it’s as much a pleasure to hear the Locomotiv GT, Metro, Omega, and Skorpio backing tracks. These instrumentals are remarkable for their funkiness; you can imagine enterprising DJs scouring this record for breaks, such as the ones that begin “Ne Hidd El,” “Zold Borostyán,” and “Rögös Úton.” Sarolta Zalatnay offers much for the listener not looking for the perfect breakbeat, though. “Adj Egy Percet” is a flute-flavored lament (I’m guessing) that speaks for much of its duration in the international language of “na-na-na”’s, while “M?nanyag Álmok” is a lushly orchestrated chamber-pop piece worthy of the Free Design.
The one name that I keep coming back to, however, when listening to Sarolta Zalatnay is Betty Davis. In comparing some of these tracks to the upcoming Light in the Attic reissues of Davis’s self-titled and They Say I'm Different albums, it’s hard not to hear Cini as the rock/jazz/soul/funk hybrid that is consistently hard to pin down, but equally as consistently hard to stop listening to.
Cini might’ve done well to take a page from Davis, however, after these stunning records were released and her collaborators began to embody what most American imagine Hungarian pop music sounds like. But instead of disappearing from the public eye, in 2001 she was seen in Hungarian Playboy (at the age of 54) and three years later she was convicted of fraud and sentenced to three years in prison.
With Sarolta Zalatnay, and recent reissues of Selda and Mustafa Ozkent, Finders Keepers is making a strong case for Eastern Europe as one of the final frontiers in the rock reissue game. In their press release for this record, they mention that Cini’s work here sits alongside Czechoslovakia’s Marta Kubisova's Songy a Balady, “as well as early LPs by Greece's Elpida and Poland's Maryla Radowics.” Let’s hope they’re in the pipeline."