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CD Review: the Klezmatics / Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah

Kind of nice dreidl and lettering in winter browns and yellows and greensKlezmatics / Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah. JMG Records, JMG 18050-02, 2006. CD available everywhere. Start at the Klezmatics website, www.klezmatics.com.
I can't take the chance that Hanukkah will arrive before people have time to order the one new essential Hanukkah album of the year. Some of these songs were part of the Klezmatics' Woody Guthrie show of a couple of years ago, and were first released on a limited edition CD at the time. On this full-length CD the band switches back and forth between klezmer and Americana to great effect. This is the most fun Hanukkah CD since Sruli and Lisa's "Oy Vey, Chanukah."

As with the previous Woody Guthrie project, each band member set a couple of poems to music, and most also contributed instrumentals, ranging from Lorin's more traditional "Gilad and Ziv's Sirba" to Frank London's lounge klezmer "(Do the) Latke Flip Flop," to Lisa Gutkin's humorous clog-happy "Spin Dreydl Spin," ensuring a latke-licious variety of tunes. In a couple of cases, "The Many and the Few"—as good a retelling of the story as you'll find on a children's record, and wistfully melancholy of the closing "Hanuka Dance" (the major disagreement between the band and Guthrie appears to be over the English spelling of "Hanukkah") they have Woody's music as well as his words. But then, as Lorin sings "Hanuka Gelt," one of a couple of counting songs on the CD, it's not hard imagining that Woody would have set it to the same music. The a capella intro to London's setting of "Hanuka's Flame" is equally rooted.

These are children's songs. They are also a trove of Woody Guthrie's Jewish works (with Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt as a mother-in-law, and settled in immigrant Coney Island, there should be no surprise that Guthrie's imagination found fertile ground). Nor should it be a surprise that the Klezmatics, with imaginations ranging as wide as Woody's, should be the perfect ensemble to set these to music and perform them. It's a Happy Joyous Hanukkah, indeed.

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