Foreign Letters, CD
Like Joni Mitchell, Israeli singer-songwriter Chava Alberstein possesses a rare combination of passion, sensitivity, anger, and intellect. She also personifies the womanly side of an overwhelmingly masculine warrior culture. Her glorious alto, supported here by a consort of subtle acoustic instruments, conveys every possible shade of emotion as she travels between nostalgic klezmer-flavored Yiddish folk songs and modern Hebrew language poems about hard-won mundane moments and sudden alienation. Romance spans the centuries as she describes a prewar rural beauty with a heart of ice but also rebukes a latter-day urban Lothario. As Alberstein is the same age as her embattled homeland, her songs often act as a timeline. She sings of bewildered immigrants learning to survive in a modern secular state and shell-shocked natives in a constant state of adjustment. An uneasy optimism permeates her work, despite the frightening present and uncertain future.