Eric Stein and Beyond The Pale are at it again. Their latest venture, Postcards, takes us on another journey around the world as seen through the eyes and ears of the eclectic and innovative group from Toronto. These 16 tracks are a collection of snapshots that tell the story of the places the group has visited, and they have translated these experiences into song. Whether traditional or original tunes, BTP has put their distinctive stamp on each one, with flair and conviction.
While it is difficult to put a label on their music, BTP starts with a Jewish Klezmer sensibility, but right from the first track you can tell that there are many influences at work here, guiding and nudging the music into a multi-genre ménage that adds in Eastern European styles like Roma, Balkan, and Greek, but also has tinges of American Bluegrass, as well as Jazz, Folk, and Roots. In addition, there are three songs in collaboration with my favorite Yiddish Vocalist, Vira Lozinsky. Whether you listen to a lively dance tune or a delicate, exposed piece, there is no doubt about the quality of the arrangements and the extraordinary level of musicianship on display throughout the album.
BTP loves to re-invent songs from the traditional repertoire, and we find a few gems among the tracks here, such as the opener, Magura, a bouncy folk tune that tosses the melody around the band and then slowly accelerates to a blazingly fast speed right up to the end. Kamenetzer is a tune that many would be familiar with. It's a favorite of mine, and is the most authentic Klezmer style that is offered here. Anthem, while listed as Traditional, comes from the repertoire of the late German Goldenshteyn, who brought the Jewish music of Moldova to North America a few years ago. This is probably the most popular of Goldenshteyn's tunes, and always lifts the spirit, especially when BTP takes it out for a spin.
While Traditional songs are the heart of BTP, their original compositions provide a glimpse into the band's soul. I love the odd meter Balkan-style rhythms that Violinist Aleksander Gajic brings to his songs Solution, Katarina, Back to the Beginning, and Extra Spicy.
Like Goldenshteyn, Irving Fields gets the BTP treatment with Turkish Delight, probably his best-known song. I really liked the feel of the song and the new life that Stein breathes into it, with his Mandolin leading the charge.
Martin van de Ven contributes a pair of originals. Are Two is a slow, beautifully melodic Clarinet duet with Accordion, that really shows a more serious side to the usual acrobatics of most Clarinet features. Dutchmandu hints at his heritage, but is a bit jazzy and tosses in some Latin percussion.
Stein contributes his own arrangement of Meditation, dedicated to the memory of his brother, David Stein. This is a beautiful song, with the exposed feeling of classical chamber music. His originals Split Decision and Postscript are livelier tunes that clearly show the North American influence on the band's music.
BTP also handles the arranging duties on Vira Lozinsky's Yiddish songs Shtern, An Old Legend, and Doina. I was already familiar with Shtern and my love of this song was deepened even more by the heartfelt accompaniment from the band. The others are treated with the same delicacy, never getting in the way of Lozinsky's lush vocals.
I was super-impressed with the recording quality of the album. I can't over-emphasize how important good engineering is to the overall enjoyment of the listening experience. Each instrument is clear and distinct, without ever sounding muddy. Clarinet and Mandolin are two of the most difficult instruments to record properly, and they really shine here. The Clarinet on Are Two is probably the best sounding recording I can remember. The vocals are equally outstanding, and bring out the best in Lozinsky's lower range. The album sounded great on every device I tried it on, but listening on my home theater system was really exceptional. I'll be using this as a reference for a long time. Thanks to Jeremy Darby, Sam Ibbett, and Fedge for their wonderful work getting the sonics so perfect.
The CD package is a rather simple tri-fold tray, with some good photos, track and musician lists, credits, and acknowledgments. There are no liner notes, but more information is available online, including English translations for the Yiddish songs.
BTP has shown again why they are among the top Klezmer performers around. The album is very listenable, never boring. It's going to stay in my playlist for a long time. Highly recommended.
Keith Wolzinger is host of Klezmer Podcast, a program and blog devoted to Klezmer/Jewish music at [...]