And I In The Uttermost West - My Heart Is In The East...
Led by Any Rubin, The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band has undergone a few personnel changes since their last album. Rubin and his gorgeous clawhammer banjo, mandolin, steel string guitar and vocals, and Lou Ann Weiss on string bass remain from the original line-up, and are joined by Annette Brodovsky on fiddle and vocals, and Felipe Ferraz on nylon-stringed guitar and vocals. They are further joined by guest artists Dave Kidron on fiddle and vocals and Elaine Fingerett on accordion, both original Freilachmakers, and Vince Wolfe on wooden flute and pennywhistle, of Irish traditional duo Driving With Fergus. The latter of course will also be familiar from having joined with Andy Rubin, Dave Kidron and Fergus' other half, Lewis Santer, as CeiliZemer to record the fabulous documentary film soundtrack album Shalom Ireland a year ago or so.
The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band have also extended their repertoire to reflect the Israeli and Sephardi influences that have increasingly left their indelible mark, especially with the addition of Brazilian born guitarist Felipe Ferraz to the line-up. Nonetheless, their solid klezmer roots remain.
And I In The Uttermost West is wonderfully aptly titled. A line from the famous 12th century Sephardi poet and rabbi Yehuda Halevy's poem, My Heart Is In The East, it reflects The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band's base in Sacramento, California, a western terminus for Jews, as well as countless others, headed for the gold fields during the Californian gold rush of 1849 and a destination for Jewish people ever since. This is reinforced by the mixed instrumentation, which of course includes instruments associated with the sound of American old-timey string bands, including Andy Rubin's outstanding clawhammer banjo.
Let me say from the outset that The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band's And I In The Uttermost West has an overall much more reflective, contemplative feel in mood than its predecessor, although there is still plenty of material to get your feet tapping and even make you want to jump up. It is also a considerably more mature effort. Neither is a bad thing.
And I In The Uttermost West starts off with a wonderful banjo and guitar arrangement of Pedotsur's Tants, familiar to most klezmerites from Budowitz's seminal, period performance style Mother Tongue album way back then. This unconventional instrumentation and sensitive interpretation is very hard to get out of one's head, and personally I could (and indeed do) listen to it over and over again. Followed by the equally irresistible A Freilach for Rick Abrams, an Andy Rubin original dedicated to his late friend and old-timey clawhammer banjo virtuoso Rick Abrams, this makes for a perfect mini-suite. (I feel I might have actually segued the two pieces.) The first two parts are in the modal style of a typical freilach (aka Bulgar), with the third section going seamlessly into the old-timey style. What a wonderful combination!
Now, with nineteen superb tracks, and not one really weak one anywhere, it would be impractical to go into great detail for each and every single one, desirable as this might be. So I am sadly forced to perhaps skip on a few altogether and otherwise keep my comments to a minimum.
Puncha La Rosa is a traditional Ladino song with melodic contributions by Andy Rubin and Annette Brodovsky, with wisely no clawhammer in sight. Unconventional as the instrumentation might be in the context of Sephardi music, it works beautifully. The Ballad of St. Anne's Reel is best known as a Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem classic. Here, it comes with a short introductory banjo melody by Rubin, and the reel has been inventively "klezmerized" somewhat about halfway through the piece. This is followed by a Rumanian and Jewish dance, Rumeynishe Sirba, fast and furious, full of joie de vivre, with Andy Rubin's banjo here somehow almost reminiscent of a balalaika. The mix of klezmer and old-timey styles works supremely well.
The well known Mayn Rue Plats is coupled with Ten and Nine, for the similarities of sentiments across languages and cultures. The latter is, especially in British folk music circles, generally better known as The Jute Mill Song. In deference to their "fear of the original Scottish pronunciation", The Freilachmakers have somewhat Americanised the lyrics, but this does not really detract except perhaps for the folk purist. Oriental Melodies presents two very different versions of the same tune, the first sounding somewhat more Sephardic while the second is a positively klezmerized and old timey-ized version. Both are equally attractive, however, the sudden cut-off at the end of the second version is somewhat disturbing, and I wonder if this might perhaps be a fault on a batch of the CDs?
Andy Rubin wrote Lament for a Burned Shul in commemoration of the burning of three Sacramento shuls (synagogues) in 1999 in one of the most brazen anti-Jewish attacks in the US in decades, as well as to celebrate the ongoing inspiring efforts to rebuild, with the help of both the local Jewish and non-Jewish communities. An inspired as well as inspirational piece, it is at once one of the most reflective and saddest as well as one of the most celebratory on The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band's And I In The Uttermost West.
Arvolicos d'Almendra is another Ladino selection, a beautiful, lilting love song, given a somewhat Brazilian sound here and with beautifully pronounced lyrics by Felipe Ferraz that make it very easy to follow them, indeed sing along if you feel so inclined. Much the same applies to the final Sephardi piece, Bendigamos, a prayer, unconventional instrumentation or not it just works.
Ever inventive and original, in And I In The Uttermost West The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band have come up with another compelling album that's a real must-have, especially for any serious collector of contemporary Jewish music. They have moved on from the days of The Flower of Berezin, yes, but wouldn't it be sad if they hadn't? Andy Rubin and The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band have remained original and in re-inventing themselves have grown, and that's as it should be. Go for it!
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