The Klezmatics,
Jews With Horns
(Xenophile, 1995;
Rounder, 2002)

Blessings on the house of Rounder! I wanted a copy of Jews With Horns on CD to replace my battered cassette tape, but it had gone out of print. But Rounder, in its infinite wisdom, has re-released it, and my joy knows no bounds.

The Klezmatics are an integral part of the klezmer renaissance and this, their third album, is packed with their frenetic yet smoothly controlled sound. The band is David Karakauer (clarinet, bass clarinet, vocals), David Licht (drums), Frank London (trumpet, cornet, alto horn, piano, organ, vocals), Paul Morrissett (bass, vocals), Lorin Sklamberg (lead vocals, accordion, piano) and Alicia Svigals (violin, vocals). Special guest Matt Darriau adds alto sax and background vocals.

The CD kicks off with the madcap "Man in a Hat," a love song to Manhattan set to a traditional melody. Canadian band Moxy Frčvous puts in an appearance on background vocals. Krakauer's clarinet dances and Svigal's violin sobs through the beginning of the next track, "Fisherlid," which clocks in at 8 1/2 minutes and ends with a folk song about lost love and unfulfilled wishes that manages to be lively and melancholy at the same time.

Most of the tracks are traditional, but the Klezmatics make them their own through interpretations that veer wildly in all directions before coming back home again. Similarly, original compositions are true to their traditional roots.

Violinist Svigals shines on "Romanian Fantasy," ably accompanied by Sklamberg and Krakauer. The result is musical lacework, delicately patterned yet substantial. Sklamberg delivers an enchanting "Nign," which begins gently and swells exuberantly. "In Kamf," a mournful yet resolute Yiddish labor song, features a chorus of older singers, and their voices add an unusual level of richness to the song.

The Klezmatics successfully blend old and new into a lucid, well-balanced album that should have you at least dancing in your seat -- if not around the room -- most of the time. The rest is reserved for haunting moments such as "Doyna," "Kale Bazetsn" or "Es Vilt Zikh Mir Zen." Jews With Horns is a must-have for any klezmer collection, and thanks to the folks at Rounder, it is now within your reach.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 3 August 2002

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