Shirim Klezmer Orchestra / Oy! It's good

Album cover: Smoked Fish, great logo, arabic numbers for the price, and stupid type. Shirim Klezmer Orchestra
Oy! It's Good

Newport Classic, NPD 85653, 1999
11 Willow St
Newport, RI 02468

This is the album. This is the album of Shirim's music that was the extension of their work on the "Naftule's Dream" album, that got recorded, then sidetracked while the band put energy into the Naftule's Dream, post-klezmer music side of the band, and used the "Shirim" name for local simkhas and the annual Klezmer Nutcracker concert.

So, the story that I like to tell is how I was in Boston one week and saw a relatively traditional (bluegrassy, even) Klezamir at Harvard Square's Club Passim one night. Then a few nights later had my mind totally blown seeing Shirim perform new Yiddish poems set to new music. This album is the music that was current to the band at that concert, and while the band has moved on to delicious new heights, I am thrilled to also have the record of that time in hand to remember and to enjoy.

Former band singer, Betty Silberman, is heard to best advantage on songs such as "Undter Baymer (Under the Trees) and the very American jazzy version of the title song, "Oy, S'iz Git" (Oy! It's good). And songs such as "Sam's Bulgar," are vintage Shirim at it's traditional best.

At the same time, I am reminded by the time that has passed. The album opens with "Lomir Zikh Iberbeytn," a song that, to the best of my knowledge, Shirim was the first revival band to record, with revised lyrics calling for world peace, and with a late night jazz sound that prefigured the band's alter musical, "Naftule's Dream." Yet, today I hear the song having heard the lighter, more traditional cover done by Metropolitan Klezmer, and the intensely deep, tikun olam version sung by the Flying Bulgars' David Wall on "Tsirkus." I would have enjoyed a couple of years to savor this version before the others crowded in and competed for deserved attention, too. Still, at least there are several opportunities to savor the arrangements to new and old Yiddish poetry bandleader Glenn Dickson was doing in that period. The delightfully light, "Harshl", "Herbst 3" (Autumn 3), and especially, the excerpt from a suite of tunes inspired by the work of Isaac Bashevis Singer, "Friend of Kafka," which very much foreshadows the sound of Shirim's alter ego, the band, Naftule's Dream. (Indeed, the song is also featured on Naftule's Dream's second album, "Smash, Clap!", released in 1998.) And special mention must be made of the band's version of "Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn" which makes one think of the smooth jazz of Ella Fitzgerald rather more than klezmer (but, that was what makes this Benny Goodman hit so special in the first place). And the transition from that oh, so American jazz to Dickson's more experimental "Herbst 3" highlights the breadth of Yiddish music today.

If this album has a problem, it is the factor of time. This is music five years old (some recorded as recently as 1997, but about half the album, in actuality, is recent recordings--the band taking the chance to record songs it often performs but never got a chance to record); it was often cutting edge then, with frequent splashes of timeless jazz and occasional Yiddish folk. Today, the edge is elsewhere. Even the idea of setting new Yiddish poetry to new music has been undertaken by groups as diverse as Austria's "Di Gojim" and the Klezmatics with Chava Alberstein on last year's "The Well." And the closing nign--this has been the year of new Jewish music bands discovering niggunim big time. So, this is interesting music that has influenced much of what we hear with delight today, to the detriment of hearing this album with today's ears.

Still, I can easily relax for the evening by putting on "Naftule's Dream" and then this album, and listening to the band stretch out and play good, traditional Yiddish improvisational music like I dreamed it would one day be played. We deserved to hear this years ago. But, truth to tell, it's still damn good to hear it today. Even today, how much good, extended Yiddish music is there? This is even better than that.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 7/23/00.

Personnel this recording:

Glenn Dickson: clarinet
David Harris: trombone
Michael McLaughlin: piano & accordion
Eric Rosenthal: drums
Jim Gray:: tuba
Pete Fitzpatrick: banjo

Betty Silberman: vocals


  1. Lomir Zikh Iberbeytn--"Let's make up" (trad; new lyrics Betty Silberman; arr. Dickson) 3:56
  2. Father's Nigun (Glenn Dickson) 3:41
  3. Sam's Bulgar (from the repertoire of Sammy Musiker) 2:44
  4. Oy, S'iz Git--"Oy, It's good" (Ellstein/Jacobs) 2:58
  5. Unter Beymer--"Under the trees" (words: Oysher; music: Olshanetsky) 3:47
  6. Sadegurer Khosidl (trad., arr. Shirim) 3:12
  7. Harshl (trad., arr. Dickson) 3:55
  8. Cuando El Rey Nimrod--"When King Nimrod..." (trad; arr. Shirim) 4:25
  9. Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn--"To me, you are beautiful" (Secunda, Jacobs, Cahn, Chaplin) 4:26
  10. Herbst 3--"Autumn 3" (words: Leyles; music: Dickson) 4:15
  11. Oyfn Pripetshok--"By the fireside" (Mark Warshawsky) 3:59
  12. Ershte Waltz--"First waltz (Tauber) 4:26
  13. A Friend of Kafka (Glenn Dickson) 4:29
  14. Belf Freylakh (trad; from repertoire of Belf's Romanian Orch.) 2:48
  15. Bulbes--"Potatoes" (trad.) 1:44
  16. Father's Nigun Reprise (Dickson) 1:33

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