Nefesh Mountain / Songs for the Sparrows

lovely pastoral drawing

Nefesh Mountain / Songs for the Sparrows, 2021

CDs, MP3s available available from Bandcamp.

Welcome to the "I broke my arm and won't make Ashkenaz this year" edition of KlezmerShack reviews. And, while the Ashkenaz Festival is best known for showcasing new klezmer music from around the world, the festival is no stranger to bluegrass, whether by revival pioneer Andy Statman, or orny bluegrass traditionalist Mark Rubin (think, "the Ballad of Leo Frank"). This year, Nefesh Mountain, a wonderful band centered around husband-wife songwriters/musicians Doni Zasloff & Eric Lindberg showcased a powerful new bluegrass album of upbeat Jewish Americana, "Songs for the Sparrows."

Opening with the Lindberg's rhythmic banjo strumming on "Wanderlust," the album also expresses a very American optimism, "wandering side by side / you are my home" coupled with allusions to Jewish history and a history of exile and wandering. "Piece of the Sun (for Anne Frank)" is countered by "A Sparrow's song," a celebration of the modern state of Israel, home to the wanderer, "everyone deserves a home" with a verse sung in Hebrew.

It's important to remember that this is, first and foremost, an American bluegrass album. That doesn't just manifest on long instrumental pieces like "Suite for a golden butterfly" or the closing "David and Goliath," but supporting each of the songs. The band is stellar on its own, but there are also guest turns by the likes of Sam bush and Wes Corbett and a host of others, not to mention Mike McGoldrick with whistle and flute and John Mock on Bodhran adding Irish touches to the pieces.

In the end, I can't think of a stronger complement than to acknowledge that this is a mainstream American Jewish bluegrass album, exquisitely played, and a delight to the ears. As they sing on the one track not written by Zasloff and Lindberg, which I imagine originally evoked the people of Appalachia, but which applies to all of us: "I've endured." It's an album that will bring joy to adults, and kids, alike.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 5 September 2022.

Personnel this recording:
Doni Zasloff:: Vocals
Eric Lindberg: Vocals, Guitar, Banjos
Alan Grubner: Violin
David Goldenberg: Mandolin
Max Johnson: Bass

Jerry Douglas:
Dobro (all tracks except 8,13,14)
Sam Bush: Mandolin (4,11)
Bryan Sutton: Guitar (1,2,9,12,14)
Wes Corbett: Banjo (3,4,11)
John Doyle: Guitar, Bouzouki, Vocals (5,6,7)
Mike McGoldrick: Low Whistle, Wood Flute (5,6,7,10)
Jeff Taylor: Piano, Accordion, Bass Accordion, Dulceola (5,6,7)
John Mock: Bodhran (5,7)

Song Titles

  1. Wanderlust 3:37
  2. A Sparrow's Song 5:43
  3. Somewhere On This Mountain 5:28
  4. Big Mountain 4:29
  5. Piece Of The Sun (For Anne Frank) 5:44
  6. Where Oh Where 3:24
  7. Suite For A Golden Butterfly 9:19
  8. In The Wide Open Air 2:58
  9. I've Endured (Ola Belle Reed) 3:51
  10. Evermore (Hashkiveinu) 4:56
  11. In The Here And Now 7:02
  12. These Wayward Winds 0:52
  13. Tree Of Life 2:49
  14. David And Goliath 4:55

All songs by Doni Zasloff & Eric Lindberg, Eden Sky Music, except where otherwise noted.

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