Friday, December 22, 2006

In Review - "Wonder Wheel" by The Klezmatics (Lyrics by Woody Guthrie)

In the mail... Handed to me at a recent wedding gig... The Klezmatics' new release "Wonder Wheel" featuring their settings of some of Woody Guthrie's lyrics, which he'd never recorded.

I like this album a lot. The 'matics are in fine form on this outing. This is essentially a folk project, but even though they say there isn't much klez on this album, its influence is clearly felt throughout. The musicianship is excellent and the soloists are in top form. Long-time drummer David Licht is no longer with the band on this recording, and his absence allows this recording to illustrate how integral bassist Paul Morrissett is to the band's sound. Licht’s replacement on this album, Kenny Wolleson, plays well, and the producers, GoodandEvil, frequently augment his drumming with tabla and other percussion.

The recording features several guest musicians who play an integral role in this project's sound especially Susan McKeown on vocals and Boo Reiners on guitars and banjo.

From the fun zydeco of Frank London's "Mermaid's Avenue" to the playfulness of the lullaby "Headdy Down" by vocalist Lorin Sklamberg, and from the klez of Matt Darriau's Goin’ Away To Sea --which was apparently not written by Guthrie, a fact discovered after the song was recorded-- to a poignant "Orange Blossom Ring" (also by London), “Wonder Wheel” demonstrates the appropriateness of the “shidduch" between the band and Guthrie’s lyrics.

Violinist Lisa Gutkin’s setting for "Gonna Get Through This World" is stunning. Probably my favorite track, but I liked most of them. Susan McKeown is featured here to great effect. The alternating trumpet, clarinet, and violin fills are just beautiful and the tabla drums add some very nice color. It’s folk, but with the Klezmatics’ unique world music touch.

Reedman Matt Darriau's composition "Pass Away" is an intriguing Eastern sounding track that sounds much like his work with one of his other projects, "Paradox Trio".

The production on "Wheel of Life" sounds too dense to my ear, I'd have preferred some more sonic space in the arrangement. GoodandEvil overdid this one, In my opinion.

In short, the music on "Wonder Wheel", much like Guthrie's lyrics, is not overtly Jewish, yet it somehow has a Jewish flavor throughout.

This is not a Jewish album, yet, this is a very Jewish album.

Amazon has it here: