Robert Crumb's cover art, with its distinctive cross-hatching and vaguely menacing faces, might be what first draws you to Don't Trust Your Neighbors: Early Albanian Traditional Songs & Improvisations, 1920s-1930s, the first release from Cleveland's Hinter Records. But the music, both melancholy and joyful, is the real star.
The album is surprising, especially for one expecting that Eastern European staple, the polka. Instead, the listener gets haunting laments and what label founder Matt Laferty describes as "ecstasies of dance."
Laferty, an English instructor at Cuyahoga Community College, recently moved to Cleveland Heights from Ithaca, N.Y., and used the move as an opportunity to pursue his dream of creating a record label.
"I wanted to start a label to reissue lost music from cracks in the far reaches of the world," he says.
The songs on Don't Trust Your Neighbors are from 78 rpm records collected by Christopher King, the album's producer and one of the top collectors of 78s in the world.
Through collecting, he met Crumb, who in addition to being a famous cartoonist, documentary subject, and former American Greetings staffer is an avid collector of pre-World War II music. Crumb agreed to create a cover for the album in exchange for 78s from his own must-have list.
"Crumb built his record collection trading artwork for 78s," Laferty says. "It's all part of the tradition for him."