Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Friday, October 06, 2006

I am loving the new Klezmatics album,
song settings of lyrics by Woody Guthrie, called Wonder Wheel: a fireworks display of musical, lyrical, and life knowledge & consciousness. Woody had the uncanny ability to evoke medieval ballad style while writing of contemporary events. “Come When I Call You” is a numbered list song in the mode of “12 Days of Christmas”; it’s about the catastrophe of the second World War & the incongruous survival of mating-love, and the birth & eventual leaving-home of the couple’s baby. The music echoes the smooth, demotic meter-shifting of “12 Days,” and Lorin Sklamberg’s gorgeous tender singing raises goosebumps.

“Orange Blossom Ring” is another great ballad in the style of “anonymous” (who is usually more accurately known as “unknown”), a poignant love song Sklamberg sings from the persona of a woman.

The music explodes across styles and sonic palettes. The Klezmatics abandon Klezmer style on several songs, and take on folk, rock, Calypso, Sephardic music, free jazz -- and always beautifully in its own right and well-mated to the words.

Guthrie’s lyric “Pass Away” reveals him as a prophet in the Biblical mode: He speaks in the voice of God. (In his book Born to Win he calls himself a “prophet-singer.”) The song’s boast is that the poet’s words will outlast human life and the earth -- “no word of mine shall ever pass away” -- and on the one hand it’s a goofy hyperbolic joke, but on the other hand it’s a theological declaration of faith in the Logos -- the Word of God -- and the Klezmatics’ music plays it for awe & uncanniness.

Guthrie’s lyrics teem with lust, social buzz, harmonious ethnic collision, moral chin-uppener, war, God-speak, and love and faith in humanity -- moving from heaven, across the earth, and into hell -- the traditional range of the visionary poet. Lorin Sklamberg’s singing ranges from party-joyful to tender melancholy to ferocity to uncanny awe, always gorgeously. The band is stellar (but anybody who has heard any of their previous work knows that), and the composing & arranging -- shared by the five core members of the ensemble -- is excellent. Woody deserves the last word -- the album’s last words -- and typically he gives the impetus away -- to you:

I wrote down this song for my own self, and sing it now to my own soul.
But if you’ll sing songs of your dreamings, then you will reap treasures untold.

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