Wonder Wheel

Wonder Wheel

by The Klezmatics
     
 
Who knew that America's Dust Bowl troubadour was such a Brooklyn boychik? Woody Guthrie settled with his second wife, Marjorie Mazia, and their burgeoning family on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island (a fact well known to Billy Bragg and Wilco fans after their album of unreleased Guthrie tunes) and threw himself into the Jewish, Italian, and Polish neighborhood mix.

Overview

Who knew that America's Dust Bowl troubadour was such a Brooklyn boychik? Woody Guthrie settled with his second wife, Marjorie Mazia, and their burgeoning family on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island (a fact well known to Billy Bragg and Wilco fans after their album of unreleased Guthrie tunes) and threw himself into the Jewish, Italian, and Polish neighborhood mix. "Mermaid's Avenue" a gustatory celebration of the street where "the lox and bagels meet" shows how Woody had become a consummate New Yorker by 1950. It's just one glimpse of the second half of the life of the storied song collector and songwriter, gleaned from Guthrie's thousands of unrecorded songs and painted in luminous color by the Klezmatics and guest vocalist Susan McKeown. However much he loved his wife, Guthrie also felt a special bond with his mother-in-law, Aliza Greenblatt, a Yiddish labor activist and songwriter. The songs here burst with fascist-fighting immigrant struggles for a perfect world; in its own way it's as rich and earthy and multitudinous as Walt Whitman. The music is a perfect match. Klezmer fans have always known the musical prowess of this ensemble, but never has one album so captured the breadth of their talents: Mandolin-driven folk, Caribbean lilts, klezmer-tinged sea chanteys, Celtic balladry, and gorgeous compositional moments grace the album, with guitarist Boo Reiners adding extra depth. Lorin Sklamberg, a Yiddish-song treasure, sings in English, delivering note-perfect readings of Guthrie's lyrics, often in ethereal harmony with McKeown. The instant classic "Mermaid's Avenue" should raise a generation of Boardwalk babies, but then there's the luminous "Gonna Get Through This World," the Eastern-tinged "Holy Ground," and the Eastern European/avant-jazz/liturgical exploration "Wheel of Life." It's hard to pick favorites from this carnival of seaside fun. Together they make a richly satisfying nosh, easily the Klezmatics' most accessible album, and a riotous slice of life that might have, must have, been.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Jeff Tamarkin
Wonder Wheel isn't the first album created from completed but never recorded lyrics left behind by the late folk icon Woody Guthrie. In 1998 the British folk-punk singer Billy Bragg and American roots rockers Wilco jointly recorded Mermaid Avenue, which drew from the same pool of material. It was successful enough that a second volume was released two years later. In fact, Wonder Wheel isn't even the first time the Klezmatics have turned to Guthrie's leftovers for inspiration. In 2004, they issued Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanuka, which, like Wonder Wheel, found the musicians taking Guthrie's words -- which he'd never set to music -- and fashioning from them new compositions that adapted readily to their style. Significantly, the Klezmatics, like the Bragg/Wilco project, chose not to attempt writing as if they were '40s dust-bowl troubadours, but rather to place the poet's words into a contemporary folk-roots setting. That's what makes Wonder Wheel -- the title, incidentally, refers to the beautiful old wooden ferris wheel that has been part of the Brooklyn jewel that is Coney Island, NY, where Guthrie lived for several years on, you guessed, it, Mermaid Avenue -- such a complete joy. Also significant is that some of the interpretations on Wonder Wheel bear little resemblance to the klezmer music that has always (and obviously) defined the Klezmatics, and that all of the songs are sung in English, not the group's more customary language, Yiddish. Those decisions, naturally, make Wonder Wheel a more accessible Klezmatics album. The track "Mermaid's Avenue," for example -- curiously, neither of the Bragg/Wilco Mermaid Avenue volumes actually included the song -- might just as easily have worked on a Jonathan Richman record, with its playful lyrics ("Mermaid Avenue that's the street/Where the lox and bagels meet") and minimalist arrangement and instrumentation. Some songs lean closer to Celtic ("From Here On In," beautifully sung by guest vocalist Susan McKeown and chorus) and traditional folk ("Holy Ground") than anything in the Jewish canon, while "Condorbird" is punctuated with a horn chart that neatly peppers its quasi-klezmer rhythm with a southwestern accent. Lyrically, the Klezmatics choose to showcase as wide a range of Guthrie's interests as possible, from the vehemently antiwar "Come When I Call You" and "Goin' Away to Sea" to the children's song "Headdy Down" and the hopeful, optimistic "Heaven" and "Wheel of Life." Each of the bandmembers turns in exemplary performances here but the versatile lead vocalist Lorin Sklamberg is due for special consideration: the purity of his singing, and his acute sensitivity to the words he sings, is the chief reason that Guthrie's lyrics are transformed from dust-gatherers to living, breathing, vital pieces of music. Woody's Jewish in-laws would certainly have been proud.
Billboard
The band confounds expectations...The Klezmatics prove themselves to be sensitive interpreters of any artistic language they choose.
Blender
Clarinets can rock...Guthrie would have plotzed to hear the melodies Lorin Sklamberg and company provide.

Product Details

Release Date:
07/25/2006
Label:
Jmg / Jewish Music
UPC:
0857764001336
catalogNumber:
18033
Rank:
17805

Tracks

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Klezmatics   Primary Artist
Danny Blume   Electric Guitar
Matt Darriau   Clarinet,Bass Clarinet,Saxophone,kaval,Vocal Harmony,Group Member
Lisa Gutkin   Violin,Viola,Vocal Harmony,Group Member
Frank London   Trumpet,Flugelhorn,Alto Horn,Keyboards,Cornemeuse,Vocal Harmony,Group Member
Susan McKeown   Vocals,Vocal Harmony,Guest Appearance
Brian Mitchell   Piano
Paul Morrissett   Violin,Electric Bass,Cymbals,Baritone Horn,Acoustic Bass,Group Member
Lorin Sklamberg   Guitar,Piano,Accordion,Vocals,Group Member
Kenny Wollesen   Percussion,Drums,Guest Appearance
Adam Widoff   Tabla
Michael Alpert   Vocals
Ethan Eubanks   Percussion,Cymbals,Snare Drums
Ron Caswell   Tuba
Boo Reiners   Acoustic Guitar,Banjo,Electric Guitar,Guest Appearance

Technical Credits

Woody Guthrie   Composer
Danny Blume   Engineer
Matt Darriau   Composer
Lisa Gutkin   Composer
Frank London   Composer
Mark London   Art Direction
Paul Morrissett   Composer
Lorin Sklamberg   Composer
Butch Hawes   Composer
Nora Guthrie   Liner Notes,Executive Producer
Vivien Goldman   Liner Notes,Essay
Steve Keene   Artwork
Gus Oberg   Engineer

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >