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Chaim Tannenbaum Chaim Tannenbaum
Album: Chaim Tannenbaum
Label: Storysound
Tracks: 13

I guess I couldn't believe my eyes when this CD dropped through the letterbox, and it's taken me a few months of pinching myself in case I was dreaming! For Chaim's truly an unsung hero, one of those quiet perfectionists who hones his own talent for the benefit and support of others and has no ambition to step into the limelight himself. Until now… and that only after much persuasion from producer Dick Connette.

For over 50 years, Chaim has collaborated with, and remained lifelong friends with, the Wainwright-McGarrigle clan - from joining Kate and Anna in The Mountain City Four in the mid-60s through many years as go-to harmony singer and reliable session instrumentalist in between assignments as a philosophy teacher. Mostly he's appeared on recordings by Loudon Wainwright III or the McGarrigles, hiding his light firmly under the bushel of crew member. There were plans for a solo album of his own in the 1990s, but corporate cuts at Hannibal ensured this got shelved. So this eponymous debut, recorded and released by Chaim at age 68, can be considered even more of a treat. It's a relaxed, informal set that mixes standards from folk, jazz and Americana roots and three of his own compositions. Most of the traditional material comes at the front end, kicked off by a 1993 London home recording of Farther Along and moving on through a number of traditional songs of obscure provenance (Ain't No More Cane On The Brazos, Coal Man Blues, Moonshiner and a pair of gospel classics) to come to rest on the first of Chaim's originals, London Longing For Home - a wistful, mildly nostalgic discursive novella-cum-rumination that has companion pieces in the comparably simply delivered Belfast Louis Falls In Love and the reminiscence Brooklyn 1955. Even better, Chaim also turns in affectionate covers of Kate McGarrigle's poignant Mendocino and It's Only A Paper Moon then runs Betjeman's Business Girls through a filter of Erik Satie before leaving us with Paddy Doyle, a gruff (and brief) shanty.

Chaim's distinctive and highly accomplished tenor voice, with its authentic, lived-in quality, is the biggest discovery of all, since for the vast majority of his involvement in music he's confined himself to harmonies. Chaim's own solo musical personality is perfectly complemented by the instrumental contributions of a select backing crew of musician friends playing accordion, clarinet, trombone, flugelhorn, cornet and euphonium. Honest, affectionate and informative booklet memoirs by Loudon W and Joe Boyd complete the package for what is altogether a charming and seriously overdue release.

David Kidman