Barry Sisters

Shemspeed fam, Matthue Roth just wrote up a pretty cool piece on one of our favorite old schools sisters on Nextbook.
Today, Yiddish versions of popular songs have been condemned to the pop-cultural bargain bin—email forwards and hammy YouTube videos.

But once upon a time, the Barry Sisters fused the Jewish language with then-popular music (songs by Frank Sinatra, Burt Bacharach, and Perry Como), creating covers that, at worst, were convincingly swinging versions of the originals and, at best, reinterpreted the lyrics to songs like “Cabaret” (“Put down the knitting / The book and the broom / Time for a holiday / Life is a cabaret, old chum / Come to the Cabaret”), providing a fresh and distinctive take. Now, thirty-five years later, label Reboot Stereophonic is reissuing their album Our Way (Tahka-Tahka) as part of an ongoing revival of milestone recordings in Jewish culture.

The music drips with so much sap and sentiment that it’s practically sweating. It begs for a backdrop of dancers in shiny polyester dresses, men in tweed suits, and mixed drinks named after once-famous celebrities. The Sisters captured the self-conscious glamour of the era in such a smart way that it almost seems like they planned for this kind of revival (which extends beyond the rerelease to include such tribute bands as the Sisters of Sheynville).

In hindsight (something many artists wish they had while churning out their holiday albums and grandparent-ready gift books), the Barry Sisters did a remarkable job of picking songs with staying power. “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” played totally straight, is kooky and enjoyable. The showy but stylish twists in their voices as they launch into their full-throttle, Jewish-woman-empowering version of “My Way” feel like a seductive wink at the listener.

The difference between old-time borscht-belt acts and the new crop of irony-laden Jewish comedians, a friend of my grandmother’s told me, is that the old guys, even when their jokes fell flat, still seemed like they were putting in the effort to be funny. True to form, the Barry Sisters are unapologetically kitschy, from their photo sessions in the extensive liner notes (both the original and an expanded version are included with the reissue) to the loungetastic feel of the songs. But theirs is a finely-tuned, ageless kitsch—here’s hoping it sticks around this time.

Listen to “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” by the Barry Sisters

Listen to “My Way” by the Barry Sisters

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