Review | Personnel Songlist
Other relevant albums reviewed on these pages:
Janice Rubin / Feels like Family (reviewed 5/26/96).
Gerry Tenney & Betty Albert Schreck / Lomir Zingen a Yiddish Lid (reviewed 5/26/96).
Partisans of Vilna (reviewed 5/26/96).
If you think that the only way to handle Yiddish song is to sing it around the fireside, or to hear some earnest folksinger emote from the stage, Krakowski has news for you. He has set several nostalgic and familiar songs to modern folk-rock and reggae arrangments. Combined with his gravelly, (dare I say it) Dylan-esque voice, the results are quite pleasing.
I would be more excited, except that I am listening to this album after seeing Adrienne Cooper with the Flying Bulgars doing new Yiddish poetry to new klez/jazz/Afro-Carribean melodies. While Krakowski's album memorializes a one-sided perspective of a world that is now gone. And, although there is no rational reason why the existence of one should negate the other, I have problems thinking of this pleasant album as breaking new territory, and I find myself reacting as though Krakowski has changed some external trappings, but is presenting the same old one-sided view of Jewish culture in Europe before the war.
To me, this selection symbolizes the American view of European Jewry prior to the Holocaust with which I grew up (now updated with melodies of the Sixties and Seventies)--we who grew up with parents, or parents of friends, who survived and who remember the Holocaust as a story of victims--victims, yet loving and traditional people, a bit like Anatevka. Here there are a few love songs, a few religious/chasidic songs, a couple of songs memorializing cities whose Jewish communities were murdered. (In a few cases, the sentiment gets treacly, as on "Friling" or "Ven du lakhst".) I note the complete absence of "fighting back" songs--including songs acknowledging Jewish resistance (armed or otherwise) during the Holocaust. There are no songs here about strong people, or of people's struggles. There are no songs representing the diversity of Jewish life prior to the Holocaust--the free-thinkers, the Zionists, the Socialists (although there are Hasidic songs, and it is worth remembering that Hasidut was still opposed by the Mitnagid relgious majority). Instead, from the wonderfully arranged "Ten Brothers" that opens the album, I hear primarily victims' songs, victims hopes and loves, and victims' pieties. And I would argue that, while many American and Israelis of my age find it most convenient to see those who died that way, it ain't necessarily so.
I am overstating Krakowski's intentions to make my own points. There is no intent on this album of representing all of anything. This is one person's vision and one person's music. It is his right as the strong, silent type portrayed on the album cover to represent the music he has lived as he feels most comfortable, and I believe that he has succeeded on those terms. On this recording he comes across, to quote a bit of liner notes (in an unintended context): "[as] the lonely man of faith, raised with the values of simple piety and traditional learning ... is redeemed...." My problem is not with the music, which is okay, certainly not unpleasant, and occasionally delightful. It is with the essence of yet another album that, in my eyes, appears to romanticize, almost to appear nostalgic for, Jewish pain and longing, as though being victims (as individuals, as well as a people) defined or defines Jewish existence. I further object to the presentation of such sentiments in a new skin as though that will speak to the memory of what was, or as if it represents something new, and especially, as if it represents something real. That is a dangerous, and, I believe, untrue place to live.
If nothing else, visit Krakowski's "Kame'a" website and listen to some digital samples of the album before making up your mind.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow 3/9/97, revised 4/3/97 and 9/21/97.
Personnel this recording: