Andy Statman - Old Brooklyn
2011, Shefa Records
Andy Statman is the sort of talent that only comes along once or twice a generation. The Flatbush Brooklyn resident grew up in a family full of cantors and professional musicians, and seemingly was born with an insatiable love of music. Klezmer music was an early love, but once Statman discovered the work of Flatt & Scruggs he was forever hooked on bluegrass. An artist in the traditional sense, Statman can play anything, but he seems to come just a bit more alive when he digs into the roots of American culture, while never forgetting the Klezmer music from his own cultural roots. Andy Statman recently released the double album Old Brooklyn. It’s a revelation.
Statman opens with "Old Brooklyn", alternating between traditional bluegrass forms and bouts of messy, improvisational noise. Some Celtic flavoring gets added into the mix. The picking is incredible, but the manic-aggressive tendencies of the breakdowns may put off some listeners. "Pretty Little Gal" is a hot little instrumental that burns bright, and sets stage for the deeply nuanced and intriguing "The World Will Provide". Ricky Skaggs sits on as guest vocalist, offering a fluid guide to offset Statman's edgy and unusual instrumentation. The result is a gorgeous and haunting piece with a surprisingly crisp backbone.
Statman explores the delta where jazz and Middle Eastern styles meet on "Totally Steaming", an interesting musical backwater that allows his ensemble to show off their talents. "Zhok Mahoney" keeps the Mediterranean flavor but is more free-form in nature. Statman's progressive tendencies get the better of him here, however, as he tries to do too much at times to fill up space. "Eitan And Zaidy" blends 1970's rock, bluegrass, funk and jazz into an intriguing musical hybrid. The musicianship is excellent throughout, and music theory fanatics will have fun pulling this one apart.
Statman kicks back with a blend of back porch jazz and R&B perfect for a lazy summer afternoon in "Since I Met You Baby". There's an unrefined sound here that's not quite as messy as it might first sound. Brooklyn goes country on "A Brighter Day", a mischievous little waltz that's easy going and fun. "Life Cycles" is an introspective and pretty solo piece for clarinet that is a must-hear. Sometimes just a solo voice or instrumental can tell the whole story, with a panache that the largest orchestra just can't touch. This is one of those performances.
The slow country waltz comes around again on "Bourbon In Jackson Hole", but Statman is ready to shake off the mood and get down to some good, old-fashioned rock and roll. This happens on the wonderful "A Boppin' Crib", which finds Statman and his band weaving together a mix of R&B, jazz and early rock in subtle measure. The song is fun and danceable, and will refuse to get itself out of your brain. Things get tricky on "Waltz For Mom". Guest Bruce Molsky and Statman are true to the title, facing off two fiddles on the bifurcated melody line, but there's an Irish jig dancing around inside screaming to come out.
Bela Fleck makes an appearance, lending his prodigious banjo to "Shabbos Nigun". "Mah Yedidus (How Beloved Is Your Rest)", however, features some of the finest instrumental work of the album. That lazy afternoon feel returns on "Blues In 3", a song with great sound and little ambition; and a great listen. Molsky returns for another fiddle faceoff on "Uncle Mo", a catchy and danceable reel you simply cannot ignore. Statman closes with "Long Journey Home", an amped up acoustic instrumental that blows the roof off and leaves no doubters behind.
Andy Statman is consistently inconsistent on Old Brooklyn, refusing to be hemmed in by considerations of genre or style. The result is an eminently pleasing and entertain gin listen that should garner some real attention from critics and on year-end lists. Statman's sound is varied enough to work against him from a commercial perspective, but placement on a soundtrack or popular compilation would explode Statman into much wider recognition. Statman certainly deserves the exposure. Even with a few bumps, Old Brooklyn still stands to be one of the finest efforts in Americana and World music of the year.
Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about Andy Statman at www.andystatman.org.
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