July 10, 2008


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Various Artists, The Jewish Songbook: The Heart and Humor of a People
Shout Factory Records, June 3

I’m not Jewish, just a mere mixed-up schlemiel from one of those wiseass pro-Semitist, disgustingly Anglo families whose members threw out random oy gevalts whenever someone felt like getting a cheap laugh. I’m pretty certain, however, that the 13 songs included here capture a general sense of the Jewish musical language, even if the inclusion of Adam Sandler as a guest singer looked at first to pose a wonderful opportunity to go on offense for a sentence or fifty. But he handles “Hine Ma Tov,” a melancholy hymn traditionally sung at Shabbat feasts, with great care (albeit with un-great trilling), leaving the cartoon stuff to Richard Belzer and Paul Shaffer, whose good-stuff-cheap awkward-pitchmen vaudeville shtick in “Joe and Paul” serves as decent enough comic relief from the infinitely sad strains of Neil Sedaka’s version of “My Yiddishe Momme” and Dave Koz’ string-drenched “Raisins and Almonds.” Bolted in place by marching drums, Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander goofs around with “Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max,” to which Marvin Hamlisch’s piano later responds by accompanying Kenny Karen’s proud tenor in “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. Barbara Streisand closes with “Avinu Malkeinu,” the Rosh Hashanah prayer. AEric W. Saeger