The Jewish criminal underworld flourished in New York City as early as the mid-19th century, wrestling with Italian and Irish elements into the mid-‘50s for control of the city’s criminal commerce, while Jewish gangsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel later became prime movers behind the rise of Las Vegas as the gambling capital of America. The Kosher Nostra compilation catalogues this era, not with Phil Spector hits like a Martin Scorsese film, but with the type of music that could've soundtracked Scarface -- the 1932 film, not the 1983 film -- and likely brought tears to the eyes of Jewish gangsters (or at least their parents) during their prime of the 1920s through the '50s. During those decades, entertainers, both those with Jewish heritage and those without, welded Jewish music to burgeoning American forms like jazz, R&B, and rock & roll. The compilers, Shantel and Oz Almog, both have excellent credentials for this type of venture; Shantel is not only a top dance DJ but a student of the criminal underworld (with a college thesis to his credit), while Oz Almog is an artist who has mounted exhibitions featuring mug shots and gangster biographies. Fans of '70s gangster movies may find this, ironically, a little too hardcore (substitute Al Jolson for Al Martino, and Connie Francis for Ronnie Spector), but this music, often with heavily traditional influences, flavors, and language, shines a spotlight on the same type of crime and culture found in Low Life, Luc Sante's eye-opening book on the New York underworld of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by John Bush