Schleppin' West

The Best Little Klezmer Band In Texas

Klezmer Tradition Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


As far as I'm concerned, the coolest thing about the Internet Age is the amount of cross-culturalism that can go on, right-wing fears of the New World Order notwithstanding. I find it a wonder that yours truly, a goyim Episcopalian-turned-Wiccan from the Midwest, can call a Ukranian Jew from New York family. And December being what it is around our household, today we honor the first day of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, with a look at The Best Little Klezmer Band In Texas' (hereafter shortened to TBLKBIT) Schleppin' West.

For those of you who haven't had the fun of discovering klezmer, it is traditional Jewish folk music, strongly influenced by but separate from Eastern European folk music; Broadway star Joel Grey's father, Mickey Katz, was one of the earliest American performers. Traditional instruments include violin and clarinet, as well as brass instruments; klezmer is music best enjoyed either laughing, crying, or dancing. Despite almost being lost in the destruction of Jewish culture in Europe during the Holocaust, the music has undergone a renaissance in the last twenty years, and is now a rich community, vibrant and growing. (At this rate, it'll be about ten years before someone somewhere - probably Paul Simon - starts to rip them off).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

TBLKBIT is a delightful example of klezmer, plain and simple. They have the historical knowledge and reverence to understand and perform klezmer traditionally, as well as the chutzpah to add other elements (including rumba and jazz rhythms). Schleppin' West is just plain fun, infectious and rhythmic, but still serious; in many ways, klezmer music is living history, a testament to the insistence of the Jewish people that they will survive, come what may.

As a recording, it is close to flawless; high praise indeed for a small label, self-produced release. The production is elegant, perfectly suited to the brass, string, and reed heavy sound, sparse without being parched. Vocalist Malke Schwerling has a rich, expressive voice, similar in feel to filk/Celtic vocalist Heather Alexander, and she's a joy to listen to. Most insidious of all, you might find yourself being educated; the liner notes are brief, but touch on musical and historical connections that we don't always hear about, pulling in sources from Benny Goodman to Vladimir I. Lenin.

If you're Jewish and want to learn more about the music of your own culture; if you're not and want to learn about another culture's music; or if you're just looking for a good time musically, The Best Little Klezmer Band In Texas is a darn fine place to start, bubbulah. Me, I have to go grate potatoes for latkes. I'll let TBLKBIT say it for me: "Hot A Gutn Chanukah"!

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2000 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Klezmer Tradition Records, and is used for informational purposes only.