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13 December 2008

CD Review: 2nd Avenue Square Dance

Review: 2nd Avenue Square Dance
Margot Leverett and The Klezmer Mountain Boys

Margot Leverett has found her voice with The Klezmer Mountain Boys. The group’s second album, 2nd Avenue Square Dance, offers a further exploration of her deep commitment to the fusion of Klezmer and Bluegrass. The music speaks for itself in the high-spirited offerings on this album.

Leverett and the band give marvelous performances throughout the album, and the guest artists add an extra dimension of authenticity in just the right places. Overall, the album is balanced, well-paced, and is a joy to listen to.

Leverett has a hand in arranging most of the songs, and composed three of them. Bandmate Kenneth Kosek composed two of the Bluegrass songs, which are among the highlights on the album.

Guest Electric Guitar player Jorma Kaukonen is featured on the title track, Second Avenue Square Dance, as well as on Electric Kugel, and (Acoustic Guitar) on Tumbalalaika. It’s fun to hear the Electric Guitar blended in with both the Klezmer and Bluegrass rhythms, and the more subtle work on Tumbalalaika, along with Leverett’s smooth, lyrical Clarinet make for an interesting twist on the well-known tune.

Darol Anger, of Turtle Island String Quartet fame, also appears, adding his 5-String Fiddle on two tracks. The instrument adds a wonderful quality to the group, and Anger fits in perfectly.

Vocalist Hazel Dickens is featured on the spiritual folk song Little Moses, and breathes new life into the traditional style of the song. It is a song that comes from the heartland, and speaks of the life of Moses in a way that is unique to the culture of the southeast U.S. mountain region.

Tony Trischka guests on Banjo, and Mike Marshall joins in on 10-String Mandolin. These musicians are already legendary and lend a new texture on the Klezmer-influenced songs. And the solos are a joy, too.

Speaking of solos, all of the band members are given ample space throughout the album. I’m sure it’s a conscious decision by Leverett to step out of the limelight and let the band do their thing. I enjoyed listening to all of them, and it’s really interesting to see what each does with the same melody. Even Bassist Marty Confurious gets a turn on Mississippi Waltz. He is the one that anchors the band, and does a consistently great job throughout the album.

Of the Klezmer tunes on the album, Sidney’s Tsveyte Bulgar is done in the traditional New York style of Sidney Beckerman. It is thoroughly enjoyable, and adds guest Hankus Netsky on Piano. Leverett’s Klezmer stylings here are impeccable.

Come Along Jody is my favorite on the album and shows best what the Klezmer Mountain Boys are all about. Along this same vein is the medley of Lee Highway Blues and High Lonesome Honga. These blend Klezmer and Bluegrass very well and would be worth the price of the album by themselves.

Another favorite is Geena’s Dream, which shows Leverett’s beautiful tonal quality and lyricism. It is a slow piece, and has great acoustic accompaniment, particularly from Anger on the 5-String Fiddle.

The engineering on this recording is remarkable. The Clarinet sounds perfect, considering it is one of the more difficult instruments to record properly. The strings sound equally stunning. Of course the playback suffers a bit through computer speakers and earbuds, but gives a very nice soundstage when listening on larger speakers. Kudos to engineers Lou Holtzman and Jason Richter.

The CD insert is rather minimal, a four-panel booklet with track listings and credits. There is not much more information on any of the websites, but the Traditional Crossroads site does have the lyrics for Little Moses.

Overall, this is a fabulous album, and I can easily recommend it. The band does a very credible job of being true to both of the musical traditions on the album, and then blends them in a very creative and ear-pleasing way. I’m ready to pay a visit to Klezmer Mountain.

Keith Wolzinger
Klezmer Podcast

2nd Avenue Square Dance
Margot Leverett and The Klezmer Mountain Boys
Traditional Crossroads (CD 4339)

Track List:
1. Farmer's Market
2. Stoney Lonesome
3. Electric Kugel
4. nd Avenue Square Dance
5. Ternura
6. Little Moses
7. Sidney's Tsveyte Bulgar
8. Calgary Reel
9. Geena's Dream
10. Come Along Jody
11. Tumbalalaika
12. Boreasca
13. Mississippi Waltz
14. Lee Highway Blues
15. High Lonesome Honga
16. Abe's Retreat
17. Zaydn's Tants Porges Waltz

Klezmer Mountain Boys
Traditional Crossroads

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