Mirah with the Black Cat Orchestra
To All We Stretch the Open Arm
My first exposure to Eastern European folk came earlier this year with Black Ox Orkestar’s Ver Tanzt?. It was a waltzing album of thickly spun beauty, but the casual espousal of violence in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict made me slightly uncomfortable. Mirah with the Black Cat Orchestra’s To All We Stretch the Open Arm provides a much more palatable, but equally barbed take on the traditional Old World protest record, preaching a message of universal acceptance rather than “us against them” ideology.
Mirah and her cohort draw from a global litany of influences (Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Kurt Weill, Bertold Brecht, Horacio Guarany, Stephen Foster, along with a handful of Spanish and Italian traditionals) and unites them perfectly with a simple sweep of the cello, a squeeze of the accordion and the ancient creak of an acoustic guitar. There’s so much beauty in the dour, spare arrangements of “El Cant dels Ocells” and “Hard Times,” it’s surprising the more theatrical songs “What Keeps Mankind Alive?” and “Bella Ciao” don’t feel the least bit out of place or distracting from the album’s overall world-weary view. It’s fitting that a band so adept at unifying disparate source material so easily could do the same with conflicting emotional themes. The disc certainly benefits because of it, proving that even though we may currently live surrounded by distressing events, there has to be an occasional ray of light to be moving toward. Otherwise, what’s the point?