Yiddish was the everyday language of European Jews for a thousand years. It was also the foundation of a flourishing culture that was almost wiped out in the Holocaust. Yiddish does not thrive in Israel, which adopted Hebrew as its national language and which seems to look upon Yiddishness as old fashioned. Some Israelis, however, struggle to keep Yiddish culture alive. Among them are Chava Alberstein and Yaacov Shapiro. The distinguishing characteristic of Shapiro's music is its gentleness. His are not the wild dances of klezmer, but folk songs and lullabies. Traditional Yiddish Songs is a two-CD set, and the two CDs are quite distinct. The musicians are all different, except for Shapiro, for example. But the most important difference is the recording. The first disc, which is the more charming, places Shapiro's voice in a reverberant, slightly recessed context, which makes him sound almost French in his courtliness. On the second disc his voice is less appealing, partly because he talks his way through more of the songs. He is accompanied by the guitar and violin, sometimes the clarinet and accordion. "Aroiskumen Zolstu Main Meidl" is a whimsical waltz which sounds almost like musette. This song is immediately followed by "Shabes Shabes," which sings the tender praises of the Sabbath. Highly recommended, at least for the first disc.
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AllMusic Review by Kurt Keefner