Music: A klezmer musical and songs from under the Ontario moon
By Michael Regenstreif, Editor
Rhyme & Reason Records
One of the most magnificent productions I’ve seen in recent years was “Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story,” a play co-created by playwright Hannah Moscovitch, who grew up in Ottawa, singer-songwriter Ben Caplan and director Christian Barry, which tells the story of Moscovitch’s great-grandparents who fled antisemitism in Romania in 1908 for Canada.
Caplan plays The Wanderer, the play’s narrator who moves the story forward with a series of monologues and songs – most of them klezmer influenced – that he performs with a theatricality that is equal parts Tevye and Tom Waits. The Old Stock CD collects the songs that Caplan performs in the show along with a couple of his monologues, and while it helps to be familiar with the play, these pieces stand on their own and include songs that relate both explicitly and implicitly to the plays narrative. Some of the latter serve as modern day Talmudic interpretations as imagined through lenses of the period (early 20th century) or of today.
As well as original material written or co-written by Caplan, Moscovitch and Barry for the play, Old Stock includes two well-chosen songs written by Geoff Berner, an instrumental by Danny Rubenstein and a passage from Jeremiah set to music by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.
Warning: Some of the songs on Old Stock have mature themes and are not suitable for young children or those offended by profane language and/or frank references to sexuality.
Well Done Music
Shelley Posen is well known throughout the folk music world as a member of Finest Kind, a mostly-retired Ottawa vocal trio known for its glorious harmonies, and as a versatile singer and songwriter whose work touches many genres. Ontario Moon is his fifth solo album and while two of his previous CDs were on specifically Jewish themes, the dozen songs here are purely secular in nature.
One of the things that’s really nice about this album is that each track is uniquely arranged with musicians specifically recruited for the song in question. For example, the title track, a jazzy, romantic tune that recalls the Tin Pan Alley songs that songwriters like Irving Berlin were writing in the 1930s, features a swinging quintet that includes Django Reinhardt-influenced guitarists Christian Flores and Andrew Tesolin, bassist Mike Mopasi, clarinetist Martin van de Ven of the klezmer band Beyond the Pale, and violinist Mika Posen, the artist’s daughter.
One of the songs I relate to most on the album is “Night Nurse,” a blues featuring the bottleneck guitar virtuosity of Michael Jerome Browne. The song is a tribute to the care Posen received several years ago when he underwent surgery at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. The song mirrors my own experiences with the night nurses when I had my own surgery at the Heart Institute a few years after Posen.
Other favourites include “The Best Song Ever Written,” a fun country song about songwriting; “Back at Bub’s,” a rock ‘n’ roller about a favourite barbecue joint; “Sugar Bush Breakfast,” a very sweet duet with Montreal singer Linda Morrison; “Tea Time,” a clever paean to afternoon tea at the Royal York featuring a classical string quartet; and “Walking in the Rain,” a delightful little piece that sounds like it could have come from a 1940s musical.
While I’ve mentioned about half the songs on the album, all of the others are just as good.
Michael Regenstreif’s music blog, Folk Roots/Folk Branches, is at https://frfb.blogspot.com/.