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Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah

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Album Review

A companion piece to 2006's sublime Wonder Wheel, Happy Joyous Hanukkah, like that album, dips into Woody Guthrie's catalog of recently discovered, previously unrecorded Jewish lyrics, to which the Klezmatics have written new music. Originally released in 2004, Happy Joyous Hanukkah, expanded with four additional songs in this re-release, largely lives up to its name, stacked with uptempo, celebratory, often quite clever tributes to the festive Jewish holiday. Guthrie's playful way with the language is evident from the opening track, the cheerful "Honeyky Hanuka," and onward through much of the album. "Hanuka Gelt" doubles as a counting lesson ("Hanuka, Hanuka, 'leven and seven/Hanuka geltula, dance me to heaven"), while the closing "Hanuka Dance" is just that, even if its lyrical content consists of not much more than a series of name drops of various treats consumed during the holiday. The Klezmatics are the ideal band to bring Guthrie's dormant words to life: vocalist Lorin Sklamberg's crystalline pipes lend a natural merriment to the band's arrangements, and trumpeter Frank London, who crafted the music for most of the songs that Sklamberg didn't, injects an experimentalism into the proceedings without losing sight of tradition. Only one song, "The Many and the Few," for which Guthrie wrote both music and words, might be described as somber, but it's not tedious: with Susan McKeown alternating with Sklamberg on lead vocals, it tells the story of Hanukkah's origin, a tale, it's fair to say, many non-Jews still do not know. And now that they will, there's no reason gentiles shouldn't enjoy this album of Hanukkah songs by the non-Jewish Guthrie as much as, say, one Jewish record producer stated his enjoyment of that other December holiday's songs when he cut one of the season's all-time classics, A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.


Formed: 1985 in New York City, NY

Genre: World

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

The Klezmatics take one of the wildest approaches to klezmer, the traditional dance music of the Eastern European Jews. Although their music is heavily influenced by the recordings of Abe Ellstein and Dave Tarras in the 1940s and 1950s, their lyrics comment on a wide variety of political and social issues and have led the group to be labeled "the planet's radical Jewish roots band." The original members of the Klezmatics -- Dave Lindsay (bass), Rob Chavez (clarinet), Alicia Svigals (fiddle) -- were...
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Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah, The Klezmatics
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