Trying to find out about this group was no mean feat. The album has a listing on Amazon.com but only for MP3 downloads of its six tracks. No information about the album, the group, or any of the tracks is provided. For that one must go to the group’s Web site, which is only in Italian. As a result I think I have now had my first serious encounter with using Google Translate.
While there were definitely some speed bumps in the translation, I was able to discover that this album was “born from the discovery of two old records in a basement in Hester Street, New York, at the time still [the] beating heart of the Ashkenazi Jewish migration” from Eastern Europe. Whether or Meshuge performs on top of those records or simply seeks to reconstruct the experience of listening to them remains a mystery; but that experience includes that characteristically scratchy sound we associate with old vinyls (not to mention old shellac 78s). Most of the tracks are listed as “Traditional;” but the two “composed” selections bear the names of two of the major figures in Yiddish music in New York in the Forties and Fifties: Naftule Brandwein and Mickey Katz. (Katz, the father of Joel Grey, would later establish himself in the novelty market with Yiddish takeoffs on popular songs. The one I remember best was “The Ballad of Duvid Crockett,” which begins, “Born in the wilds of Delancy Street,/ Home of gefilte fish and kosher meat.”) One of the Brandwein tracks, “Oy Tate S’iz Gut” (Oh, Daddy, That’s Good!) seems to be pretty popular with the new klezmer movement; but I have not yet done enough research to determine whether the thematic lapse into “Caravan” is traditional or Meshuge’s particular brand of mishegoss.
Nevertheless, it seemed appropriate to write about this CD with Hanukkah just around the corner, since the one Katz selection is “Grandma’s Draidel.” (The misspelling of “dreidel” on the track listing may be an artifact of how Italians have chosen to spell this particular Yiddish word.) As mishegoss goes I find the full album relatively mild. However, in the age of the 99-cent download, the Katz track may be suitable for opening presents on the first night of Hanukkah.