Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-09-16


Ravid Kahalani: Yemen Blues (Global Lev, 2011) Singing in many languages you don't understand, including at least one he made up, Yemenite vocalist Kahalani, Jewish and now based in Israel, joins Israeli bassist Omer Avital, Jewish and now based in New York, to create Arab-inflected rhythm music over horns, flute, violin of some kind, and percussion. From falsetto-Afrochant-over-hummed-beat to Middle-Eastern-popsong-with-show-jazz-brass, his music seems ecstatic even before you know his border-crossing backstory. You can hear liberation in the intensity of the ensemble playing, the vocals, and the groove. A-

The Klezmatics: Live at Town Hall (Klezmatics Disc, 2011) Recorded in 2006, this concert program performs roughly the same function as Piranha's 2008 cherrypick Tuml = Lebn. But personally, I'd rather hear these New Yorkers trying out their English than honoring tradition on a German best-of boasting "7 songs in Yiddish, 1 song in Yiddish/English + 8 instrumentals." Thus I gravitated to the four Woody Guthries and one Holly Near on the second disc, wished Susan McKeown would join the band already, welcomed cameo-ready Joshua Nelson, and was perfectly fine when half the Tuml = Lebn songs showed up. And then in a contemplative mood I sat still and listened to the first disc's 12-minute, quarter Yiddish, quarter English, half instrumental "Dybbuk Suite." Understood every note, I swear. A-

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