These are the most upbeat songs about homesickness I’ve ever come across. Well, it IS klezmer music, brushed up and merged with modern rock and roll, but with none of that tref hip hop or punk. Klezma music comes from the folk music of the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe, and carries influences of polka, mazurka and Russian work songs. Each song on this disc ties itself to a specific city somewhere in the old Lithuanian empire. They are performed in English, Yiddish, Russian and a few other dialects I’m not sharp enough to pick out.
Opening the album is the almost moshable “Odessa,” an ode to the most tropical of all Russian cities on the balmy shores of the Black Sea, and home to famous prostitutes and eggplant. How do I know? I read the liner notes, bubeleh. More bounce follows with the nearly nonsensical “Chiribim,” which tells a classic story about a wet rabbi, but I forget the details. There’s the distance of space, and of time, and of forgetting. It affects me more and more, just like this collection — these are songs about places as they existed a lifetime ago, even though war and revolt have redrawn the map a dozen times.
Listening to this with no knowledge of the musical sources, it will sound familiar in a strange way. There’s almost a Middle Eastern flavor to the whole group, and I happened to see Blue Angel recently. The band in the club Lola lives in sounds strangely similar to this band: sinuous horns and a wheezy accordion, rattle-y drums and brilliantly fast violins fold together with a result that is just familiar enough and just exotic enough to keep you off balance. Chanukah is coming, here’s a great stocking stuffer, if you’re goyish enough to hang stockings. Hey, its cultural fusion. Welcome to the new world, but never lose the old.