On Roseberry Road, Shelley Posen – an Ottawa singer-songwriter whose catalogue includes many Jewish-themed songs – presents a set of 16 well-crafted songs in a variety of styles written over the past decade-and-a-half.
The album opening title song – named for the street in suburban Toronto where Posen spent his early childhood – is among the highlights. It’s a sweet, lovely and nostalgic reminiscence filled with personal and very specific memories.
Another is “The Campfire Song,” about singing around a campfire and the kind of songs that get sung there. I developed my earliest appreciation for folk music from sing-alongs at summer camp in the 1960s, and the song brings back a lot of those memories.
A few other favourites include “The Gazebo on the Oswegatche,” which seems like it could have been a 1920s pop tune; “The Basket’s Song,” which Posen sings from the perspective of a basket woven in 1903 as it tells its history from creation to museum exhibit (Posen is curator of Canadian folk life at the Canadian Museum of History); “Canoeing My Troubles Away,” a country waltz that celebrates getting away from city life; and the closer, “Thanks for the Song,” an end-of-the-night farewell after a fulfilling concert or any kind of gathering for singing and sharing music.
Posen uses a wide variety of styles on these songs, and each features musicians specifically chosen to bring something special to it.
Shtreiml, a Montreal-based band that has made several notable appearances in Ottawa, including concerts at the National Arts Centre and at the community Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration in 2010, is one of the most innovative ensembles on the contemporary klezmer scene. Their music – almost all the material on this set was composed by Shtreiml founder Jason Rosenblatt, a harmonica virtuoso – is steeped in Eastern European Jewish music, but is also highly influenced by Turkish traditional music, jazz, rock and blues.
With a rock solid rhythm section – bassist Joel Kerr and drummer Thierry Arsenault – the band soars with Rosenblatt on harmonica, Rachel Lemisch on trombone, and Ismail Fencioglu – who brings the Turkish musical influence – on oud. Several guests, including guitarists Adam Stotland (a former Shtreiml member now working as a cantor at a Montreal synagogue) and Avi Fox-Rosen, horn players Craig Pedersen and Tevet Sela, and percussionist Ziya Tabassian, enhance a number of the songs.
Among the highlights on Eastern Hora are “Waltz Azoi,” a melancholy and haunting showcase for Rosenblatt’s harmonica skills (with a brilliant bass solo by Kerr); “Rayrus Spielt,” which features Lemisch’s expressive work on the slide trombone; Fencioglu’s “Cifetelli” (the only tune not composed by Rosenblatt), on which he demonstrates his amazing flexibility on the oud; and “After Party Freilach,” a workout for the full band and guests.
Two of the pieces, “The Old Mill” and “Lullaby for Halleli,” are contemplative solos performed by Rosenblatt at the piano.
Isle of Klezbos
Live from Brooklyn
For a more traditional, but still very fresh-sounding, approach to klezmer music, you won’t go wrong with Live from Brooklyn by Isle of Klezbos, an all-woman sextet from New York led by drummer Eve Sicular.
The album, recorded at concerts in Brooklyn, includes some arrangements of familiar tunes like “Uncle Moses Wedding Dance,” rollicking Yiddish songs like “A Glezele Yash,” and some original pieces, including Sicular’s “East Hapsburg Waltz,” dedicated to the memory of her grandmother.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the album is the lovely arrangement of “Molly’s Theme,” here called “When Gomer Met Molly,” composed by Earl Hagen for a 1968 episode of the TV show Gomer Pyle USMC, which featured a guest-starring spot by legendary Yiddish theatre actress Molly Picon. It’s a beautiful and distinctly Jewish-sounding melody.