Much of Possessed is a collaboration with Tony Kushner (the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning playwright of Angels in America). He contributes lyrics to two songs, and the second half of the album was designed as a musical score for his play A Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds (an adaptation of Jewish folk tales by S. An-ski). The marriage of artistic sensibilities is perfect. The Klezmatics' ethos is at once deeply traditional and deeply progressive. Their music is a lively engagement with Jewishness itself, inflecting Eastern European klezmer music with other genres so seamlessly that it seems misleading even to name the other influences (classical, Dixieland, bebop, Middle Eastern folk, modern rock...). Their song catalog includes religious traditionals, but it also includes original Hebraic odes to marijuana and homosexuality. All of which is very much in line with Kushner's endless quest to sort out his own disparate influences as a gay, Jewish, democratic-socialist, Louisiana-born, New York-adopted artiste. The collaboration has afforded the Klezmatics an opportunity to expand their palette. While there is plenty of their familiar frenzied spiritual party music, there is also some goregeously evocative minor-key mysticism. The titular theme of possession is, on its face, a reference to the ghost story in A Dybbuk, but it's best explained by Kushner in his smart, funny, gushing liner notes. "Are we not possessed," he asks, "by the multitudes we contain, not only multitudes of observant and unobservant brave martyred ancestors...but of all the cultures through which we have wandered, which we have helped to shape, in which we were at home and never at home?" That's a pretty good description of the Klezmatics' music, which is itself a singularly Jewish assimilation of multitudinous influences.
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AllMusic Review by Darryl Cater