1958's Songs of a Russian Gypsy was a considerable commercial and critical success for the distinguished actor and musician Theodore Bikel, so it's no great surprise that he returned to Russian folk music in 1960 with Songs of Russia Old & New. The second album was a bit more ambitious in that it encompassed a broader thematic range than its precursor, including some songs specific to the Soviet Union rather than the old Russia, and focused less on upbeat material, though Bikel's passionate performing style still gave all 14 selections plenty of life. Bikel's background in the theater is often apparent in his performances, and he isn't afraid to sing with rafter-shaking force (he roars through "Pomnya Ya [I Remember]" with such vigor that one gets winded just listening to it), but he also well knew enough to match his performance to the material, and he's able to communicate both the mood and the meaning of these tunes even to an audience who can't understand the lyrics, and the skill of his performances had only improved since his first Russian album. Songs of Russia Old & New also boasted slightly glossier production and more elaborate arrangements, though they never intrude upon the material, and the musicians approach the material with the same intelligence and taste as Bikel. America has had few performers with the range of talents Theodore Bikel displayed in his career, and Songs of Russia Old & New preserves the man's musical ability at the peak of his strength.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming