Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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THE KLEZMATICS
Wonder Wheel: Lyrics by Woody Guthrie
JMG

New York six-piece celebrate their 20th year as a band, show that clarinets can rock

The Klezmatics have long been the most open-ended of the many bands reviving the clarinet-based Yiddish party music called klezmer, reaching out to an Israeli pop diva, a gospel singer, Muslim mystics from the Tunisian outback. But here, interpreting a handful of the 3,000 lyrics folk godfather Woody Guthrie left behind when he died in 1967, their catholicity increases their accessibility. The Jewish-Okie connection is less peculiar than it seems--Guthrie spent his happiest years with a Jewish wife in the polyglot Brooklyn neighborhood celebrated in "Mermaid's Avenue" and would have plotzed to hear the melodies Lorin Sklamberg and company provide. Sklamberg's true tenor is equally gorgeous whether crooning a lullaby, serenading his Marjorie though beset by tribulations or promising to return from a war as real now as it was in 1943. And praise Jah, he's singing in English.

Blender, Sept. 2006