The east side referred to in the name the Eastside Sinfonietta featuring Weba Garretson is the east side of Los Angeles (that would be the less fashionable and well-off side), which provides a hint at the unorthodox approach taken by the small (only five members, including Garretson) ensemble on Don't Be Afraid, which is subtitled, "Songs by Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht & Hanns Eisler." That approach is unorthodox enough to have drawn the ire of the Kurt Weill Foundation, which got wind of their plan to perform the Weill/Brecht show Happy End using their own arrangements and sent a cease-and-desist order. That may help explain why this album, although it features seven songs from Happy End out of its 15 selections (a 16th track is just backward-tape weirdness), has been expanded to include numbers from Marie Galante ("Youkali Tango," with Roger Fernay's lyrics sung in the original French), Berlin Requiem, Measures Taken, Baal, Hollywood Elegies, and The Threepenny Opera (including a short version of "Moritat," aka "Mack the Knife," sung in the original German). Actually, however, the arrangements aren't that odd. Annotator Greg Burk calls them "quirky," which could be said about the original arrangements, and it is a stretch to call the version of "Mandalay Song" a "surf-punk take." It's easy to understand why the Eastside Sinfonietta would want to emphasize differences from the norm, however. Many of these songs have been recorded numerous times, and though Garretson is certainly an effective singer, particularly on songs that allow her to show a lot of emotion, such as "Surabaya Johnny," it's hard to improve on those who have gone before. That said, the Eastside Sinfonietta is a spirited outfit, and if this album provides an indication of what their performances are like, then they're well worth seeing live.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann