Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Klezmatics: Possessed [Xenophile, 1997]
Modern klezmer obviously celebrates Jewish roots and identity--often mixed in with Jewish eclecticism, usually with Jewish secularism, occasionally with Jewish avant-gardism, and always with Jewish celebration itself. The Klezmatics assume all that and then intensify the Jewishness as they transcend and/or escape it. Lorin Sklamberg's ethereal yet sensual tenor epitomizes sacramental seriousness while suggesting the slippery skepticism of all traveling musicians, and the rest of the Klezmatics make congruent artistic choices--as in the "Reefer Song" Frank London composed with Yiddish lyrics by Michael Wax, or the bewitchingly traditional melody Alicia Svigals provided lyricist Tony Kushner's bereftly postmodern "An Undoing World." Anchored and turned inside out by that song, the first half of this record reaches Jewish heaven--where the undone are restored, where the Messiah gathers the gays and blacks and reefer-smokers to his bosom, where the just feast on a "fabulous and tasty wild ox" called the Shor-a-bor. This is a vision band with a genre, not a genre band with a vision. And both are open to all. A-