New album coming soon (3 Oct. 2015)
There has been a rising tide of new Yiddish music in recent years, and the latest to ride the crest of the wave are Sklamberg & the Shepherds with their first collaborative release aheym/homeward. New York- based Lorin Sklamberg has had an immeasurable impact on the global Jewish music scene since the beginning of the Klezmer Revival. His instantly recognizable vocal style and musicianship, as well as his reputation as a leading Ethnomusicologist have put him at the top of the Klezmer scene for decades. The UK- based husband/wife duo Polina and Merlin Shepherd have won acclaim for their worldwide concert performances and recordings. Polina is a highly regarded vocalist in multiple languages, and Merlin is among the top Clarinetists in the world today.
Which brings me to the idea of this collaboration of these three artists, each a master of the genre, past guests of Klezmer Podcast, and longtime friends of mine as well. I've seen them performing at the same event, but not all together. So, I had never considered the possibility of them doing something together. But to be honest, even before I heard the first note of the album, I had the thought that this was going to be something great, something groundbreaking. And I was right.
I had the good fortune to hear these tracks in uncompressed WAV format on my reference home theater system. This made for a highly enjoyable listening experience, but more about the technical side of things later. What about the performances?
I was pleasantly surprised at how well Lorin and Polina blend their voices. The harmonies are beautiful, and they each have moments to shine.
On the faster songs like Ma Noymar and A Gezang Fun A Traktorist there is a joy in the music that is easy to relate to and forms the basis for the increasing popularity of Yiddish song today. Lorin's Accordion and Merlin's Clarinet help to keep the energy up and your toes tapping.
The fast Horas Hafiflik and Di Bekhers Mit Vayn are in a traditional style and allow everyone some space to shine.
Lorin shows his delicate side and high vocal range on the slow lullaby Viglid, a piece that sounds simple, but is incredibly difficult to perform. And he just nails it!
The most adventurous piece here is Ay-Yay-Yay, a complex song sung in Russian. A feature for Polina, she and Lorin weave their way in and out of harmony, with a delicate accompaniment from Merlin on Clarinet. I kept coming back to this track over and over gain. Simply breathtaking! Polina is also featured on Sankt Besht, a slow waltz, and the longest track on the album. She is a great storyteller, and gives an emotional performance that defines her unique style and solidifies her worldwide popularity.
Not to be left out, Merlin gets his own space on Khalvat and Sahar 1 and Sahar 2. His depth of feeling and impeccable technique are on full display, and show why he is one of my favorite Clarinetists. He can go from a rich, dark tone on one song, to a bright, light touch on one of the fast songs. All amazing performances.
Being an audiophile, I'm always looking for good sound in recordings. I have to say that the depth and detail here is top notch. While the voices sound clear and natural, the detail in the instrumentals is where I found the greatest enjoyment. I have to come back to Khalvat to say that I feel it is the best engineered track on the album. Hearing every breath, the subtle, single notes from the Accordion, the movements of the Piano, all give the feeling that you are there in the studio with them during the recording session. And guess what? The album was mixed by Merlin. Say no more.
Final thoughts? Sklamberg & The Shepherds take us on a musical journey that entertains, is full of both joy and deep emotion, and pushes us further into the resurgence of Yiddish song. Come along and ride the wave with them. You definitely will not be disappointed.
Album available here: