Among the recent CDs that Ottawa Jewish Bulletin Editor Michael Regenstreif has been listening to are “Forest Fire” by Shawna Caspi, a singer-songwriter who grew up in Ottawa, and “Ruckus” by the Toronto-based klezmer and Balkan music band Beyond the Pale. Visit Michael’s music blog at https://frfb.blogspot.com for more reviews.
Earlier this year, the Ottawa Jewish Archives completed a project to make the complete collection of Ottawa Jewish Bulletin back issues available online. Issues from 1937 through 2009 are now available at https://archive.org/details/ottawajewisharchives while all issues since 2007 are at www.ottawajewishbulletin.com.
While looking randomly at Bulletin back issues online, I came across a poignant poem about the Holocaust by Shawna Caspi, a Grade 6 student at Ottawa Talmud Torah Afternoon School, published in our November 14, 1994 edition.
More than two decades later, Caspi has become an accomplished guitarist, singer and insightful songwriter – which is well documented on “Forest Fire,” her fourth CD, a collection of seven original songs and two covers performed quietly, yet with confidence and strength, in contemporary folk-rooted settings.
The album opens with “Love in a Moving Van,” in which she uses the inherent difficulties in a couple’s do-it-yourself move with a U-Haul truck as metaphors for the difficulties in maintaining a relationship over time.
Among the other highlights are “Devil’s Rolling Pin,” which uses a driving, minor-key setting to celebrate the discovery of exciting new music at the end of an otherwise difficult day; the heartrending “Never Enough,” an observational song about a mother’s efforts to change the ways of a wayward son; and “Brave Parade,” a song of courage “in an angry age,” written by Ottawa songwriter Lynn Miles.
Caspi’s singing and guitar playing gets fine support from producer Don Kerr on drums, fiddler Rosalyn Dennett, Dave Matheson on keyboards, bassist Ben Whiteley and multi-instrumentalist Joel Schwartz.
Caspi is also a visual artist and did the impressionistic painting of the forest fire on the CD cover.
Beyond the Pale
“Ruckus” – an exciting, all-instrumental set of 13 tunes – is the first CD in eight years from Beyond the Pale, the Toronto-based klezmer band led by mandolinist Eric Stein, artistic director of Ashkenaz, Toronto’s biennial festival of Yiddish and Jewish culture.
In addition to Stein, the band includes violinist Aleksandar Gajic, bassist Brett Higgins, accordionist Milos Popovic and clarinetist Martin Van De Ven.
Almost equally divided between traditional klezmer and Balkan tunes and original compositions by the various members of the band, Beyond the Pale uses traditional styles as a starting point in their compositions and adaptations as they incorporate influences from classical music, jazz and bluegrass into their playing.
For example, the moods in Stein’s “The Whole Thing” shift from a classical feel to a Parisian café mode, while Gajic’s haunting “Andale” seems like it is rooted in slow Middle Eastern forms.
Among the other highlights are “Mila’s Dance,” a playful tune composed by Van De Ven and “Oltenilor,” a toe-tapping traditional klezmer tune that I don’t think I’d heard before. Actually, in the hands of Beyond the Pale’s virtuoso musicians, every tune is a highlight.