Susan Leviton / Songs of Wonder
Deep Skies, 2013
Available from susanlevitonarts.com
This is a special album. It doesn't re-imagine Yiddish (mostly) standards. Rather, Susan Leviton presents them in a form that enables us to re-hear them, and re-imagine them for ourselves. In digging into the poetry of these songs, we regain insight into a particular world, but also into the human condition. Nor or these merely songs of nostalgia. By starting the recording with "Shmulik, Gavrulik" (a song I first heard courtesy of Toronto's wonderful Anne Lederman) the focus begins first on the continuing cataclysm that we see today in the increasing vanishing of the Middle Class, but then could be expressed in two immigrant stories: that of Shmilik, the landlord, and Gavrilik, his childhood friend, now forgotten, living in a basement in one of Shmilik's tenement houses.
Along with songs of general longing and aspiration, from a joyous "Yidl mitn fidl," a somber reminisce, "Vilna," on to the album's closing "Naye Lid," social struggle remains a strong theme. "In a kleynem shtibele" is less familiar than Morris Rosenfeld's classic "Mayn Rue Plats," but clearly should be equally well-known. Once current events get a lighter touch, too, as in "Levin mit zayn 'Flying Mashin'," which while properly raucous, doesn't quite capture the outrageousness of Henry Sapoznik's version in an old, eponymous Kapelye CD.
One treat to the linguists among the listeners is how many songs reflect more than one culture or vocabulary. "Katarina Moloditsa" is one very fun example of this intermixing. Love, and boy attempting to attract girl, being universal themes. "Szól a kakas Már" is a Hungarian folk love song adapted to Hasidic purposes by R. Yitzchak Isaac Taub. Here, the words sung a cappella, with just harmonized voices, are superb.
Michael Winograd's arrangements for this CD are superb, of course. The typography, and Leviton's illustrations add extra notes of grace, making the entire physical CD something worth owning and displaying. A treat, even. Find out more, and get your copy, from Leviton's website, susanlevitonarts.com.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 29 April 2014
Personnel this recording:
Susan Leviton: vocals
Daniel Blacksberg: trombone
Lauren Brody: accordion, vocals
Jeremy Brown: violin
Avi Fox-Rosen: banjo, guitar
Daniel Kahn: vocals, whistle
David Licht: drums
Frank London: flugelhorn, trumpet
Adam Moss: viola, violin
Hadar Noiberg: flute
Ethan Philbrick: cello
Jake Shulman-Ment: violins
Alec Spiegelman: baritone sax, tenor sax
Carmen Staaf: piano
Garth Stevenson: bass
Michael Winograd: clarinet, percussion, spoons
Lauren Brody, Sabina Brukner, Benjy Fox-Rosen, Marsha Gildin, Eva Primack, Michael Winograd: chorus on "Levine"
- Shmilik, Gavrilik (words: I. Reingold; music: G. Mendelsohn; instr from repertoire of Dave Tarras) 2:05
- Betler lid (trad.) 2:59
- Yidl mitn fidl (words: Itzik Manger; music: Abe Ellstein) 1:41
- Ergets vayt/Zol zayn (words: H. Leivik; music: Lazar Weiner/I. Papernikov) 4:26
- In a kleynem shtibele (trad.) 3:40
- Vilne (words: A.L. Wolfson; music: Alexander Olshanetsky) 3:21
- Katarina Moloditsa (trad.) 2:45
- Levin mit zayn "Flying Machin" (words: Joseph Tansman; music: Sam Coslow) 2:57
- Szól a kakas már (trad., adapted by R. Yitzchak Isaac Taub) 2:39
- L'chayim jó testvérek (trad.) 3:19
- Dos zangl (words: Hirsh Glik) 2:48
- Dos naye lid (words: Avrom Reisen; music: unknown) 2:44