Rebecca Kaplan & Pete Rushefsky / On the paths: Yiddish songs with tsimbl

The duo from transylvania or the duo from a snowy wood? Rebecca Kaplan & Pete Rushefsky
On the paths: Yiddish songs with tsimbl

Yiddishland Records, YDL 03, 2004."

First, the disclaimer: I typeset the liner notes (not the cover) for this CD. So, if there are any problems with them, it's my fault—I can't blame anyone else this time. Those who attend my workshop later this summer at KlezKanada can get an early start by noting that the Yiddish and transliteration share a common margin, the better to help the eye when people need help. You'll also note that the Yiddish and transliterated line endings are always the same—the reader doesn't have to guess. I'm not entirely convinced that we shouldn't have paid the space penalty and put the translation in the same block as the Yiddish and translation, but that's a subject for my Hebrew Typography blog, not for here. In addition to the lyrics, the liner notes also include song sources.

What I didn't know when I agreed to do the typesetting, was how wonderful the album was. Quite the contrary, I felt that the world needed yet another album of Yiddish (mostly) folk songs like it needs yet another anything else. Having heard the album, I can comfortably report that the world did need this album, and it is wonderful.

First, Becky Kaplan's voice is warm, expressive, and beautiful. Judy Pinnolis has written to the Jewish-Music mailing list that Kaplan is the "Isa Kremer of our time." I won't argue unless I can think of even nicer things to say. Second, it turns out that accompanying voice with tsimbl—or, at any rate, accompanying the voice with Pete Rushefsky's tsimbl playing, is pure genius. Pete's skill comes to the fore on the odd instrumental, as on the "Prince Carol Sirba," where Kaplan accompanies the tsimbl's melodic line with chords on the piano.

There is so much to like, here. For those who want traditional Yiddish folksongs, there are versions of "Tumba" or "A gelezele yash" (a glass of whiskey) warm and gentle enough to excite even the most jaded ears. Kaplan sings like a woman in love, but not just songs of being with or of longing to be with the object of her affections (although, her contribution to the latter, "Shoyn fir yor", could have been written 100 years ago as easily as today, so well does it encapsulate the ambiguity of lovers apart, "Who am I waiting for, all alone in my apartment / Are you the one I'm meant to be with, or just trouble in disguise").

Along with the love songs and lullabies and children's songs and the celebrations of the bittersweet things in life such as whiskey, the duo unearth the delightful "Tayerer Rebenyu" (Dear Rabbi"), which opens with expected verses about a cup made unkosher when milk was poured into a meat cup, and then draws the witty and wonderful analogy to making an unfaithful husband kosher again, as well:

Oh, give the man a good wash, oh
Don't be lazy
Heat him over coals,
Bury him in the ground.
Cover him with straw.
In a year, God willing,
He will be kosher.

In short, Kaplan and Rushefsky have indeed set us "Oyf di vegelekh" (on the paths) to a world of love and living in Yiddish, and have made that world universal to all, whether they know Yiddish or not. This is the best album with which Pete has been involved so far, and I hope that he and Becky record many more together. His new instrumental songs, as well as his ability to channel Joseph Moskowitz, are incredible. As for Kaplan, not only does she join the small group of excellent Yiddish song-writers of our time, but her voice is stunning, an "Isa Kremer of our time," if not better. Many thanks to Itzik Gottesman for bringing this out on his Yiddishland Records label, where it joins two albums of his mother's songs. It is in excellent company, and brings much nakhes to the label (and to the listener!).

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 5/23/04

On the Paths: Yiddish Songs with Tsimbl

by Roger Reid

Originally posted to the Jewish-Music mailing list on May 25, 2004. Reposted here with permission.

I've also been listening to On the Paths: Yiddish Songs with Tsimbl, the new release from Rebecca Kaplan and Pete Rushefsky.

The first thing that struck me (well, the second, after the spooky cover) is that I don't think I've ever heard this kind of thing recorded before. I'm trying to think of another recording - from any era, cylinders to CDs, mostly filled with a female voice accompanied by tsimbl.

It's a wonderful sound, and of course not least because of the performers whose voice and tsimbl they are. I honestly don't know a great deal about yidish singing, but I know what I like. Rebecca's singing is clear, heartfelt, and unpretentious. I think it's easy with old folk songs to get a little overwrought and over interpret them. Kaplan seems to serve as a vessel for these tunes to flow from easily and naturally.

Pete's interplay in tsimbl with the voice is always appropriate and sensitive. You can tell he's listening to Kaplan. Also on a few tracks Pete takes lead with the tsimbl while Rebecca comps on piano, which is a great old Moscowitz sound. Needless to say I enjoyed those tracks.

The cover art and overall design is stunning too, just as Pete's earlier recording with Elie Rosenblatt was. This, if I read the notes right, has a lot to do with the talents of Pete's sister(?) designer Molly Rushefsky. The musicians in the snow on the front is evocative; the manipulated image on the back is almost frightening.

Personnel this recording:

Rebecca Kaplan: vocals, piano, buben (drum)
Pete Rushefsky: tsimbl


  1. Tumba (trad.) 2:27
  2. Ven es dremlt dos shtetl--when the town dozes (lyrics: Joseph Heftman, music: Gershon/Eksman) 2:25
  3. Prince Carol Sirba (from the repertoire of Joseph Moskowitz) 3:52
  4. Ikh hob gevolt--I wanted to wander (Trad.) 3:07
  5. A glezele yash--a glass of whiskey (lyrics: Yoysef Kerler, music: V. Shainsky) 2:29
  6. Terkish (from the repertoire of Joseph Moskowitz) 2:22
  7. Tayerer rebenyu--Dear Rabbi From the repertoire of Larisa and Anna Novicheva) 2:47
  8. In droysn iz fintster--Outside it is dark (trad.) / Vos vilstu, muter, hobn?--What do you want, mother? (trad.) / Freylekh far Rivke (P. Rushefsky) 7:18
  9. Shlof, mayn kind--Sleep, my child (original lyrics by Sholem Aleichem) 2:54
  10. Shoyn fir yor--It's been four years (lyrics/music: Rebecca Kaplan) 3:01
  11. Sadegurer Khusidl (from the repertoire of Joseph Moskowitz) 3:16
  12. Vos zhe toyg mir dayn sheyner vayngortn?--What good is your lovely vineyard? (trad.) 3:36
  13. Oyf di vegelekh--On the paths (from the repertoire of Mariam Nirenberg) / Yanyinke Sirba (P. Rushefsky) 3:49

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