Songs of Wonder

Basya Schechter

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Songs of Wonder Review

by William Ruhlmann

Basya Schechter, lead singer of Pharaoh's Daughter, devotes this solo album to her musical settings of the Yiddish poetry of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. As translated into English in the CD booklet, Heschel's writing combines religious fervor and romantic yearnings in simple, but heightened poetic language. Schechter's music is in the hybrid combination of Western folk-rock and traditional Eastern and Middle Eastern folk that she has pioneered, on her own and with her group. Her own singing and oud and saz playing are accompanied by a basic unit that includes string players Megan Gould (violin, viola), Yoed Nir (cello), and Kyle Sanna (acoustic and electric guitars, Dobro), plus keyboardist Uri Sharlin, percussionist Rich Stein, and horn players Albert Leusink (fl├╝gelhorn) and Frank London (trumpet). Other guest musicians join in, but the listed instruments suggest the mixture, with elements of chamber music and even pop/rock joining the ethnic strains. London has a jazzy solo in the leadoff track, "At Dusk: D." The romantic "To a Lady in a Dream" combines oud and violin over a Middle Eastern dance rhythm. The pastoral "Snow on the Fields" and "From Your Hands" are slow pieces emphasizing the chamber instruments and piano. For some Western folk listeners, some of the music, notably that for "My Seal," will recall the early albums of Leonard Cohen, who favored some of these same instruments. "My Song," another dance tune, is the most traditional sounding Yiddish music number, while the closer, "Youngest Desire," almost counts as a rocker, complete with electric guitar solo. Throughout, Schechter's lovely voice navigates the Yiddish words feelingly, making this an affecting work, even for those who don't understand the language.

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