25 October 2008
Review: A Song Is Born- Mitch Smolkin
Review: A Song Is Born
Right from the opening notes from the Didgeridoo, you can tell that Mitch Smolkin’s A Song Is Born is going to be an interesting listening experience. Smolkin leads us on a wondrous journey through Yiddish song, infused with world music in such a way that the album transcends the way we relate to this music. South American flutes and Harmonica add depth to the music, proving that the music of the shtetl can be brought to the world at large, taking elements from other cultures and enhancing the music in the process, rather than diluting it. In fact, adding these elements brings us closer to the Yiddish culture of those who emigrated outside North America.
Smolkin is a gifted musician whose voice soars above the band with grace and smoothness rarely seen among today’s performers, of any genre. And his dynamic range from a whisper to full voice is captured with all the emotion intact, and the interplay between singing and spoken word is used to great effect.
Kudos also to vocalist Aviva Chernik who presents, with her beautiful voice, the perfect counterpoint to Smolkin’s singing, as well as speaking the English narration.
The music runs an emotional gamut from hope to sadness, love, loss, joy, and humility. Fueled by Smolkin’s research into his family’s past, he pays tribute not only to their memory, but to all those who share an ancestry in the Yiddish cultural experience. In fact, one aspect that I find most intriguing is that each track on the album has a dedication written by friends and family members who helped fund the project.
A Song Is Born begins and ends with A Nign, a wordless song, which evolves into the familiar Chiri Bim.
Libe is the most beautiful yet delicate track on the album. Smolkin shows his passionate side here with great support from the band, including a lovely Violin background and a sensitive Trumpet solo from Paul Brody.
Unter Dayne Vayse Shtern starts with an Argentine Flute Interlude, overdubbed so as to sound like multiple flutes. It has a wonderful sound, and features the very talented Marcelo Moguilevsky, who also provides a nice Clarinet solo later on. I also liked the Clarinet/muted Trumpet duet.
On the waltz Vu Nemt Men A Bisele Mazl, I liked the sound of the Accordion, Bass, and Penny Whistle, as well as Chernik’s beautiful vocal harmony. The song’s last chorus is an a capella four-part vocal that left me wanting to hear more.
Ergets Vayt makes good use of English narration and Yiddish lyrics. I found this to be an enjoyable piece, featuring a Piano solo from Cesar Lerner and more Trumpet/Clarinet that works so well here.
My favorite track is Di Zun Vet Aruntergeyn, what I would call a Bluesy Slow Hora, with a spot-on Blues Guitar solo from Levon Ichkhanian, growling muted Trumpet, some great sounds from the Fender Rhodes, and again, the Didgeridoo. This song sets the context for the album, where all the world music elements combine to bring Yiddish song to a new level.
Vilne, the longest track, is the centerpiece of the album. It is a song of longing for the old homeland, full of emotion, and has the richest, most orchestral arrangement among these songs. Singing of Vilne, the lyric says “Ah, how often your name calls forth a tear from my eye.” Could we say the same of our hometowns of today?
I enjoyed the middle-eastern feel of S’iz Shoyn Farfallen, with the emphasis on Percussion and featuring a smooth middle-eastern Electric Guitar solo and the Argentine Flute.
Shabbes is a four-part chorale, a lush piece that stands on its own apart from the other songs on the album. The arrangement by Sid Rabinovitch is outstanding and gives Smolkin the platform from which to soar over the other voices in a very ethereal setting.
After the last song on the album Smolkin has added a hidden track, a recording of a live performance by the group that became the basis for this album. It provides some insight into the group’s development and approach to the music.
The sound of the album is superb, with a deep, rich sound field and some of the most pristine vocal reproduction I have heard on CD. Smolkin and Chernik sound magnificent, with such clarity that it seems they are in the room with you. The rest of the band sounds equally fantastic, but I have to single out the beauty of the Argentine Flute, which as with any Penny Whistle or other high-pitched instrument, can be piercingly strident in the upper register. Here, the sound is clear without any edginess. A truly remarkable job by the engineering team of Jeremy Darby, Jim Zolis, and Peter Bond.
The 12-page CD booklet is an equally beautiful work of graphic art, with a common theme of colored smoke in the background of each page. The booklet includes full Yiddish and English lyrics, some nice photos, introduction, and thank you page.
It is difficult to keep in mind that this is Smolkin’s debut CD, as the performances are clearly those of a veteran performer, with all members of the group displaying a high level of musicianship. They all create a real connection to the music, and as a listener, I am drawn into the musical landscape they have worked so hard to create. I believe this is the right direction that Yiddish song needs to be headed, and I can give this album my highest recommendation. A Song Is Born, and so is Smolkin’s rising star.
A Song Is Born
MLS Productions (MLS 111)
1 A Nign - A Melody
2 Libe - Love
3 Unter Dayne Vayse Shtern - Under Your White Starry Heaven (Interlude)
4 Unter Dayne Vayse Shtern - Under Your White Starry Heaven
5 Vu Nemt Men A Bisele Mazl - Where Can One Find A Little Luck
6 Ergets Vayt - Somewhere Far Away
7 Di Zun Vet Aruntergeyn - The Sun Will Set
8 Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen - Raisins and Almonds
9 Vilne - Vilna
10 S'iz Shoyn Farfaln - It's All Over
11 Papir Iz Dokh Vays - Paper Is White
12 Shabbes- Sabbath
13 A Nign - A Melody (Reprise)