Margot Leverett & the Klezmer Mountain Boys

The high lonesome wooden synagogue Margot Leverett
& the Klezmer Mountain Boys

Traditional Crossroads, CD 4318, 2003

Traditional Crossroads
PO Box 20320 New York, NY 10001-9992
Tel: 212.579.3761
Fax: 212.579.3762

A lonesome fiddle sounds as the album opens. The ear prepares for the bluegrass sounds of Margot Leverett's klezmer clarinet. I don't understand how it all fits so well, but the bluegrass fiddling and picking that fit in seamlessly with Leverett's clarinet playing not bluegrass, but clear klezmer riffs, does work. Not since Sacramento's Freilachmakers have I so enjoyed klezmer and bluegrass fit together as though they belong. As Seth Rogovoy writes, this is the "Jewish high, lonesome sound."

Leverett's clarinet playing is, as always, virtuosic. A co-founder of the Klezmatics, then of Mikveh, now also appearing with Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars, Leverett has been deeply involved in all aspects of Ashkenazic Jewish instrumental music for decades. Her debut solo album was dedicated to the music of American klezmer Sid Beckerman. Here, she not only pulls in newly discovered traditional Jewish instrumental music recently uncovered in the former Soviet Union, but pulls in a host of other music roots. This isn't just a klezmer-bluegrass album, but a klezmer-bluegrass album showcasing favorites across the wide spectrum of both traditions, then and now.

The songs are often medleys, bringing together traditional tunes, putting the focus on the music, on "music", and making the listener aware of connections that were heretofore invisible. Sometimes the music is thoughtful, gentle, reflective, as on "Leather Britches", or on the closing Yiddish folk medley, which features her on clarinet with Zalmen Mlotek on piano. Sometimes, the instrumentation seems so unlikely on paper, until the musicians begin playing. Listen to the use of the Klezmer Brass Allstars in the non-bluegrassy, but stupendous "Russian Sher" led by Leverett's clarinet into the very bluegrassy "Growling Old Man, Growling Old Woman." Cognoscenti, of course, know that the Allstar's tuba player, Mark Rubin, has a second life as a popular alt country bluegrass artist ("Bad Livers")— the distance isn't as far as we sometimes think. Such matchups of presumed opposites abound. Where else, for instance, would you hear Bill Monroe married to Eastern European dance as in "Lonesome Moonlight Waltz & Voloch" and where else would you hear the sweet sound of Vassar Clements meeting Sid Beckerman.

The bottom line? The playing is stupendous and it all sounds wonderful. This is the sort of album that causes the listener to stop periodically, just to listen and to relisten to the virtuousity and skill with which bluegrass and klezmer and most important, just plain old music, is turned into a celebration of all that makes us dance or think or celebrate. Leverett's last album was called "the Art of Klezmer Clarinet." Hah! That was just the warmup. This is the new real thing.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow 11/23/03

Personnel this recording:
Margot Leverett: clarinet
Kenny Kosek: fiddle
Barry Mitterhoff: mandolin
Joe Selly: guitar
Marty Confurius: bass

With special guests:
Rustan Agababayev: piano (tracks 4, 10)
Michael Alpert: vocals, accordion (track 6)
Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars (Frank London & Susan Watts, trumpet; Curtis Hasselbring, trombone; Mark Rubin, tuba; Aaron Alexander, drums): (tracks 3, 12)
Zalmen Mlotek: piano (track 13)


  1. Cluck Ol' Hen & Kolomeyke (trad.; arr. Leverett) 3:39
  2. Klezmer Waltz (trad.; arr. Leverett) 3:59
  3. Russian Sher & "Growling Old Man, Growling Old Woman" (trad.; arr. Leverett) 3:55
  4. Git Morgn (trad.; arr. Leverett) 4:40
  5. Leather Britches (trad.; arr. Leverett) 2:14
  6. Leibes Tanz—Moldavian Tune (trad.; arr. Leverett) 3:40
  7. Kentucky Dance Medley: Bill Monroe meets Sid Beckerman (parts 1 & 2 based on Bill Monroe; parts 3 & 4 trad.; arr. Leverett) 5:45
  8. Lonesome Moonlight Waltz & Volich (part 1 by Bill Monroe; part2 trad.; arr. Leverett) 5:47
  9. Lonesome Fiddle Blues & Sid's Bulgars (part 1 by Vassar Clements; part 2 trad.; arr. Leverett) 3:43
  10. F major Bulgar (trad.; arr. Leverett) 3:30
  11. Sea of Reeds (Margot Leverett) 2:04
  12. A Redl & A Volich (trad. from Kiselgof Collection; arr. Leverett) 3:56
  13. Yiddish Folk Medley (Yankele/Shlof mayn feygele/Chava) (words: Mordechai Gebirtig/trad./trad.; music arr. Zalmen Mlotek & Margot Leverett) 4:24

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