This page features reviews of a bunch of compliation albums that don't quite fit into the other categories of world music that are reviewed on Slipcue.Com. As my interest in some of these styles broadens, I may expand some of these reviews into larger sections of their own, but for now, this seems like a nice spot to tuck them all together.
Various Artists "THE BRIDE'S JOYS AND SORROWS: SONGS AND BALLADS OF THE MOROCCAN JEWS" (Global Village, 1994)
These ancient tunes, sung a capella by the woman of Tetuan, Morocco, are undeniably authentic, yet probably too stark in their rendering to be of interest outside of devoted cultural historians, or the most diehard listeners. It's cool on a folkloric level, but I couldn't listen to it for very long.
Various Artists "FROM AVENUE A TO THE GREAT WHITE WAY: YIDDISH & AMERICAN POPULAR SONGS FROM 1914-1950" (Columbia Legacy, 2002)
This fine 2-CD set traces the growth of Jewish American popular music from its roots as an Eastern European dance style, through the thriving Yiddish theatre scene, and into its role as one of the pillars of modern American pop. The first CD may be rough going for the Yiddish-impaired; very "ethnic" sounding, and slightly impenetrable, although it does feature rare recordings by many of the genre's biggest stars -- Molly Picon, Abe Moscowitz, and klezmer pioneer Abe Schwartz (see above). Disc Two kicks off with an Irving Berlin song, and proceeds straight into the American mainstream, and an increasingly English-speaking and bilingual mileaux. Eddie Cantor, Fannie Brice, Sophie Tucker, Benny Goodman and the Gershwin sibs all get their due, and a parade of great recordings zip by. Some of the skits are hilarious, but as they are chosen for historical relevance as well as artistic content, some listeners (depending on their temprament) may find the content -- particularly the ethnic stereotypes that thrived in the vaudeville and Catskills theatre circuits. Anyone who wants to research this subject, though, will find this collection invaluable. Great liner notes -- both informative and hilarious -- by producer Harry Sapoznik.
Various Artists "JEWFACE" (Reboot Stereophonic, 2007)
An impressive cultural artifact that collects sixteen Jewish-themed "ethnic" comedy-novelty numbers from the early years of the 20th Century, songs culled from the tail end of the great migration of European Jews into the United States. These were vaudeville numbers that played on ethnic stereotypes of Jewish avarice, timidity and quarrelsomeness, themes that will doubtless be offensive (or at least surprising) to some modern listeners, but which will also be taken by many others in the spirit they were originally intended, as playful self-parody. Unlike the more vicious humor of the "blackface" minstrel shows, where white performers imposed derogatory stereotypes onto African-Americans, these songs were actually written by Jewish artists for Jewish audiences, and were both good-humored, laugh-at-yourself larks and brisk portraits of a poor but upwardly mobile immigrant group that was radiply assimilating into American society. They also mirrored similar recordings aimed at other audiences -- novelty songs about Irish and Italian immigrants, for example -- ribald, ethnic-themed comedy skits that were one of the early staples of the American recording industry. The dark side has to be acknowedged: these jokes wouldn't have been funny if they didn't reflect genuine antisemitic images that were already in the popular culture, but in much the same way that derisive words like "black" and "chicano" were reclaimed in the 1960s, Jewish artists of an earlier generation wrested away the power these stereotypes had, and made the material their own. Some of it may be rough going for modern listeners, both because of the shrill, exaggerated nasality of the singers and because of the choppy state of some of these antique acoustic recordings. The historical value is immense, though, and a lot of it is simply hilarious -- when faced by a song such as "Pittsburgh, PA," which lists all the other "boigs" one might encounter in America (the Goldboigs, the Steinboigs, etc.) what else can you do but laugh? (By the way, if you enjoy this collection, you might also want to browse the Cylinder Digitization Project an online resouce at UC Santa Barbara that makes thousands of old Edison recordings available for download, including numerous novelty numbers of similar vintage... Pretty cool website, and their archive was used to assemble this album...)
Various Artists "KLEZMER MUSIC -- EARLY YIDDISH INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC: 1908-1927" (Arhoolie, 1997)
Various Artists "YIKHES: LINEAGE - EARLY KLEZMER RECORDINGS 1911-1939" (Trikont, 1996)
Jewish klezmer music, even in its modernized, toned-down form, might not be for everyone... Still, this infectious dance style can be incredibly captivating, filled with dazzling clarinet solos and inventively bouncy melodies. For anyone who's already a fan of the style, these two CDs are a must. They come from UC Berkeley professor Martin Schwartz's vast collection of rare 78s, and each volume features some of the most stunning early Jewish music set on wax at the start of the 20th Century. These CDs are also an invaluable historical resource, since many of these recordings are unique, and no other original copies exist other than the ones that went into the creation of these collections... For an ecstatic and authoritative look at the major pioneers of the style, this is where to look.
Various Artists "MUSIC FROM THE YIDDISH RADIO PROJECT" (Shanachie, 2002)
Music literally salvaged from the scrap-heap of history... This disc collects some of the highlights of an NPR radio series that looked back at the golden age of Yiddish-language radio broadcasts, when Jewish-American immigrants from Eastern European still had a sizeable ethnic enclave, complete with newspapers, magazines, theatre and radio programs that kept the language of "the old country" alive. Some of these artists flirted with fame outside the boundaries of the enclave, but mostly they were celebrities within this cultural bubble. A fascinating look back at one of America's most vibrant immigrant cultures.
Various Artists "PUTUMAYO PRESENTS: A JEWISH ODYSSEY" (Putumayo, 2000)
Europe, Asia and the Americas provide the material for this straightforward, 11-song overview. As might be expected from the Putumayo label, this disc is, generally speaking, a bit softer and less challenging (or, "more accessible," if you prefer...) than your average klez-fest. And that's fine, really: this stuff isnŐt the easiest music to get into, so a selection like this might be an ideal entry point. Ofra Haza, The Klezmatics, Chava Alberstein and the Klezmer Conservatory Band are among the better-known artists on here... Some of the tunes may be a little bland, but it's a good introduction.
Various Artists "YIDDISH - NEW YORK, PARIS, VARSOVIE: 1910-1940" (Fremeaux & Associes, 1995)
World Music Index