The Great American Gypsies,
Before I Had a Red Tomato
(independent, 2004)

Having grown up in an area with a diverse ethnic population, I found much of the music by the Great American Gypsies familiar and enjoyable. What made it even more of a pleasure to listen to was the obvious enjoyment the musicians had in playing it.

To say this is an album of ethnic music would be to simplify the repertoire. Before I Had a Red Tomato is a celebration of world music. While the selections here are primarily of Eastern European origin, there are also a few American and European standards, Greek, Italian and even an African song included.

Some personal favorites include the Klezmer "Bar Mitzvoh Tantz," the Bosnian ballad "Kad Ja Podjo Na Bembasu" and a Ukrainian selection, "Oy Na Gori Dva Dubki."

Charley Rappaport, who is a virtuoso of the instrument, says his first mandolin belonged to his grandfather, who carried it in 1907 when he stepped off the boat at Ellis Island from Odessa, Russia. Rappaport began his career in colleges and coffeehouses in the 1960s and has also played before audiences in such renowned venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and others in North America and Europe. In 2004, he was named a Master Folk Artist by the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts.

Joseph Kovach, the other half of the band, is of Slovak origin and also has played and traveled in more than 30 countries. A practicing musician since childhood, he spent two years hitchhiking around the U.S. collecting folk and other music from people he met along the way.

Joining these two superb musicians on this album are Kelly Armor and Dave Sturtevant. Armor is a vocalist and flautist who has been a teaching artist for the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts since 1995. She and Sturtevant have been performing an eclectic mix of music together since 1993.

by John R. Lindermuth
4 March 2006

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