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Charming Hostess rules / Ale Brider returns in Choir Fest

band in the 'burbsThe first wave of KlezmerShack 10th Anniversary concerts came to an end this weekend with two amazing concerts.

In two weeks, in venues from Zeitgeist in Inman Square to the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton we managed to have full houses, which is pretty nifty in a town that supposedly has moved on from Klezmer. Of course, as this past weekend's concerts illustrate, the KlezmerShack is about much more than klezmer, itself.

Charming Hostess played for a packed house at the Center for New Words in Inman Square. The band focused on material from their recent Sarajevo Blues album, including an expanded selection of Ladino songs from the Bosnia region and a killer a capella version of "Spoonful" by that well-known Transylvianian Jew, Count Willie Dixon. As was the case last fall when they focused on material from Trilectic, hearing the band live was even better than the CD. Voices just soared and harmonized and gave life to songs as complex as "What will you remember" and "Death is a Job", plus most of the rest of Sem Mehmedinovic's poetry from the new album.

Afterwards, over a late morning brunch we got to talk a bit about the band, the tour, and a new release from the vaults, "Punch", recorded about the same time as Trilectic, five years ago. The current ensemble is only about three years old (although even the current CD, Sarajevo Blues, features friends from the old gang and gives it a sharper instrumental edge than the free-wheeling vocal soaring apparent in concert).

Saturday night was "At My Grandmother's Knee," an interesting concept in which The National Spiritual Ensemble shared the stage with the Brookline, MA-based "Workmen's Circle Choir". Both choirs focused on songs that they had "learned at their grandmother's knee". In the case of the National Spiritual Ensemble, this meant stunning gospel music, but, surprising to me, none of the movement songs from the Sixties that have recently been shared on recent Black-Jewish recordings. I'm not sure it mattered: the music was powerful and divine and our ears certainly left happy. The Workmen's Circle Choir, suffering from a lack of men's voices (if I could hold a tune, I would regard this as a call to action - those male readers who, like me, are local to Brookline and who lack my handicap should hie themselves over to the Workmen's Circle soonest), but it still sounded divine. In this case, I was again a bit disappointed--this time by the number of sentimental shlaggers. Still, from "Mayn ruhe platz" to "Vakht Oyf", there were several songs to appease the social conscience, and also several songs commemorating the Holocaust including "Vayl Ikh Bin a Yidele", and some lovely, if unexpected Chasidic songs such as "Zol Shoyn Kumen di Geule". Putting the lie to my prediction of last week, the concert not only opened with the combined choruses singing "Ale Brider," but the song was the encore, following a rousing, combined "Amen", also featuring both groups.

There are already new events planned, starting this coming weekend, so stay tuned.

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