The Klezmatics

The Klezmatics

Jews With Horns


The Klezmatics are the best band you’ve never actually heard, unless you have, in which case you know what I’m talking about. This six-person ensemble plays klezmer, which is a gypsy-sounding offshoot of Jewish music with roots everywhere: its frenetic pace echoes punk (drummer David Licht has played in Shockabilly), its heavy syncopation is all about reggae roots, and the light touch of violinist Alicia Svigals brings us right into the intersection of folk and classical. They are funny, their politics are perfect, and they’re hellaciously tight, even on eight-and-a-half-minute pieces like “Fisherlid.” If you don’t know from The Klezmatics, you’re missing something huge.

This album, originally released in 1993 and just now reissued by Rounder, provides ample truth of my boasts. The first track, a hilarious punfest called “Man With a Hat,” sends them reeling through a traditional Jewish melody with David Lindsay’s Lorenz-Hart-worthy lyrics: “Having fun in London is like lying on the floor/Isle of Man, I’ll manage to avoid like manticore/Budapest, I get no rest and Boston is a bore/A man unique to my mystique in New York I adore.” (The “Man With a Hat” is Manhattan, get it?) Singer Lorin Sklamberg has a beautiful tenor voice that skips through these tongue-twisters like a child in a field of daisies… except cooler, and the band cooks like sixty. You’re exhausted after three minutes, but there are 57 more and they’re jam-packed with greatness.

The K’s can trade off verses on a jaunty drinking song (“Simkhes-Toyre”), float through a “Romanian Fantasy,” or burn on the hoedown called “Bulgars/The Kiss,” which happens to be about an ACT-UP kiss-in. (Sklamberg and Svigals are both openly gay.) I’m especially impressed with their slam dance 3/4 tempo on the traditional “Heyser Tartar-Tants,” translated as “Hot Tartar Dance.” There’s nothing they can’t do.

A full hour of perfection, then. What are you waiting for?

Rounder Records:

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