The Klezmatics are to the klezmer revival as the Pogues were to Riverdance. Namely, both groups have invigorated their respective ethnic traditions by exorcising them of schmaltz and kitsch -- twin dybbukim that naturally haunt commercial folk revivals. The Pogues did it by injecting Irish music with the spirit of punk rock. The Klezmatics go further, suffusing their traditional and original Yiddish dances and ballads with clever chops, progressive politics, and cosmopolitan influences that add up to the ripe spirit of all-inclusive modernism.
In part, that makes the Klezmatics more urbane than the Pogues. While Shane MacGowan's sniveling sneer would have sounded just as good in front of the Clash, Lorin Sklamberg's smooth, precise tenor would do justice to the part of Motel the Tailor in a world-class production of Fiddler on the Roof. But it also fits perfectly in a New York sextet whose members have performed with the likes of classical violinist Itzhak Perlman, avant-garde composer John Zorn, rap star LL Cool J, and alternative rockers Ben Folds Five.
The group's three albums feature an occasional jazz-schooled clarinet solo here or a hip-hop breakbeat there, but the eclecticism mostly melds together, broadening the joyous embrace of the band's traditionalism. One of the few non-Yiddish lyrics, for example, turns out to be about the openly gay Sklamberg scoring in Manhattan, but like so many Klezmatics numbers, the raucous music also makes "Man in a Hat" a great wedding dance, open to anyone who would raise a glass to life.
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