An album full of Borsht Belt humor and classic Jewish songs shouldn’t actually be funny. After all, these are the jokes that your bubbe laughed at 50 years ago…aren’t they?
Yet the 2008 collection The Jewish Songbook: The Heart and Humor of a People is surprisingly hilarious. With the right delivery, anything can be funny, and the cast that was assembled for this album is nothing short of stunning. Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander gives a rendition of the Allan Sherman song “Shake Hands with Your Uncle Max,” and Law & Order’s Richard Belzer teams up with Paul Shaffer, David Letterman’s bandleader, for the song “Joe and Paul,” a send-up of the old New York Yiddish radio station WEVD.
Many of the tracks give a fresh take on traditional songs, none more so than Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s version (in Yiddish!) of “Mazel (Means Good Luck).” Among the straightforward songs are Fiddler on the Roof’s Theodore Bikel singing “Hinei Ma Tov” together with Adam Sandler. The CD concludes with Barbra Streisand singing “Avinu Malkeinu” in a somber tone that doesn’t match the rest of the CD at all. But we don’t mind–she’s Barbra, after all, and her appearance makes the CD even more Jewish, if that’s possible.