Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Various Artists – Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II


Various Artists
Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II

(A version of this review was published in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.)

During the Second World War, ethnomusicologists at the Kiev Cabinet for Jewish Culture set out to preserve the new Yiddish songs documenting the experiences of Jews fighting the Nazis in the Red Army, as well as those working on the home fronts, and songs reporting on such atrocities as the massacre at Babi Yar. Following Stalin’s post-war anti-Semitic purge, these songs were thought lost. However, the lyrics of many of the songs were rediscovered in the 1990s in unmarked boxes found in the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine. Yiddish Glory:The Lost Songs of World War II is an extraordinary album – featuring five singers and a group of superb instrumentalists – recorded in Toronto that documents some of those songs.

Among these fascinating songs are “Shpatsir in Vald (A Walk in the Forest),” sung by Sophie Millman, in which a young woman and a young soldier about to go off to fight Hitler’s army say their farewells; “A Shturemvint (A Storm Wind),” sung by Psoy Korolenko, a lyric that promises to keep fighting until fascism and Hitler are defeated; and “Babi Yar,” also sung by Korolenko, based on witness accounts of the 1941 massacre of more than 33,000 Jews.

An extensive booklet includes an essay about the project, notes on all of the songs and the lyrics in Yiddish with English translations. Yiddish Glory is certainly one of the most powerful albums of Jewish music released in recent years.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Nefesh Mountain – Beneath the Open Sky


Nefesh Mountain
Beneath the Open Sky


Although there are a significant number of virtuoso bluegrass musicians, the genre itself has rarely been a vehicle for specifically Jewish-themed music. Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys was a great band that combined klezmer and bluegrass traditions but Nefesh Mountain – the husband and wife duo of multi-instrumentalist Eric Lindberg and singer Doni Zasloff – are making Jewish music within a traditional bluegrass framework.

Songs like “Halleluyah,” which I suspect will eventually become a staple in non-Orthodox musical prayer services, and “On and On (L’Dor Vador),” about the continuity of generations, easily flow back and forth from English to Hebrew lyrics, while the traditional bluegrass gospel standard, “Bound for the Promised Land,” is stripped of its Christian references and rewritten by Nefesh Mountain as wishful expression for peace in the Holy Land. One of the most joyous songs is their bluegrass setting of “Oseh Shalom,” and after an intense collection of full band bluegrass tunes, they end the CD quietly with a lovely version of Irving Berlin’s “Russian Lullaby.”

Joining Lindberg and Zasloff on these songs are several A-list bluegrass musicians including banjo maestro Tony Trischka, Jerry Douglas on Dobro, mandolinist Sam Bush and guitarist David Grier.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Ron Weiss – Arrow & Heart


Ron Weiss
Arrow & Heart


He’s best known in Ottawa as a vasectomy doctor, but Ron Weiss’ profile as a musician and singer-songwriter took a giant step forward this year with the release of Arrow & Heart, a fully realized collection of 10 original songs blending diverse musical styles including pop, rhythm-and-blues and folk.

The album opens strongly with “Armageddon” and “You Gotta Hold,” up-tempo pop tunes driven by polished horn arrangements, before slowing down with “I Just Wanted You to Know,” a pretty love ballad.

Other highlights include “You Mean Everything,” another very pretty love ballad, and “Be a Child,” a nostalgic series of childhood memories.

Arrow & Heart is enhanced by 14 other Ottawa-based musicians and singers – among them drummer Jeff Asselin, vocalists Rebecca Noelle and Jeff Rogers, and saxophonist Brian Asselin – who help Weiss bring these songs to life.

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--Mike Regenstreif