Michael Regenstreif reviews new CDs of Israeli folksongs by Orit Shimoni, Yiddish theatre songs written by Socalled, and klezmer music by Jason Rosenblatt & Orkestra Severni.
Songs for My Father
I first discovered the music of Israeli-Canadian singer and songwriter Orit Shimoni in 2006 when she released her first CD under the name “Little Birdie.” At the time, the Hebrew University graduate was working as a Jewish day school teacher in Montreal and finishing a master’s degree in theology at Concordia University. It struck me then that her best songs had a quality reminiscent of Leonard Cohen – a comparison that has deepened for me over the years as I’ve followed her evolution as a singer, songwriter and performer. While she released her first albums as Little Birdie, her most recent releases have been under her real name.
While Shimoni’s previous albums have primarily been original songs in English, she decided to record an album of the Israeli folksongs she grew up with as a gift for her father on his 70th birthday. “Songs for My Father” is a lovely, quiet, often thought-provoking collection highlighted by such songs as “Chofim,” a song of longing for a place that is missed that Shimoni says reminds her of her childhood home in Jerusalem, and “Shir Leil Stav,” a rumination on autumn and falling in love.
The album’s most powerful moments come in “Ein Li Eretz Acheret,” a song that expresses a love and loyalty for Israel rooted in a desire for the country to fulfil its true dreams, and “Choref 73,” in which the generation that came of age in the 1990s – Shimoni’s generation – questions the lost promises of peace pledged by their parents’ generation.
Shimoni ends the album with an original song, “Hayavin,” in which she sings that her love for her father is rooted in the gift of music that he gave her and is manifested in her very act of singing.
A Socalled Yiddish Musical
Isaac Babel’s Tales from Odessa
Josh “Socalled” Dolgin – who grew up in the Ottawa area and is now based in Montreal – has developed a well-deserved reputation as an innovative force in Jewish music. Among his projects is the musical comedy, “Isaac Babel’s Tales from Odessa,” staged to much acclaim in 2013 by the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre at the Segal Centre in Montreal.
The musical is based on a collection of stories, “The Odessa Tales,” written by Isaac Babel – widely considered to be one of the greatest Russian Jewish writers – in the 1920s about Jewish gangsters in Odessa in the last years of czarist regime.
Like many of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre productions over the years, “Isaac Babel’s Tales from Odessa” was a larger-than-life production with a large cast of singers and actors – both professionals and skilled amateurs including Ottawa-area actor Gab Desmond Hegedus in one of the lead roles – and an eight-piece orchestra led by well-known American klezmer clarinetist Michael Winograd.
Four years after the production was staged, Dolgin has released this entertaining cast recording of the music and songs and lovers of klezmer music and Yiddish theatre songs – as I am – will appreciate these rollicking songs, even if they don’t understand the actual words. While the spirit of the production comes through in the fine performances, I do wish the package included a booklet with synopses of the show and the songs. But even without those explanations, “Isaac Babel’s Tales from Odessa” is fun and delightful to listen to.
Jason Rosenblatt & Orkestra Severni
Jason Rosenblatt established his initial reputation by playing harmonica and leading Shtreiml, an inventive klezmer band based in Montreal. He has since branched out with other projects including Jump Babylon, a rock band featuring songs on Jewish themes, and a solo album steeped in jazz, blues and roots influences.
On “Brass Fabulous,” Rosenblatt is at the piano with Orkestra Severni, a group of horn players and a drummer – including his wife, trombonist Rachel Lemisch –playing a set of original compositions steeped in klezmer and other Eastern European traditions.
Among the highlights are “Sirba a la Oscar,” a three-part dance with sirba, hora and freylach sections; “A Mother’s Pain,” which has a sadder motif than most of the rest of the album; and the inventive “Chassidic Love Tango,” which adds a South American touch to the Eastern European base of most of the music.
The album is well-named because Rosenblatt’s compositions are constructed to highlight the sounds of the horns – tuba, trombone, trumpet and saxophone – and they really do sound fabulous.
Michael Regenstreif blogs about music at https://frfb.blogspot.com.