Though she has been involved in the Ladino music scene since Neil Armstrong strode the moon, Ljuba Davis’s new release, “East and West,” is her debut album. The 43 years Davis has spent kicking these songs around orally before committing them to permanence rings throughout the album. “East and West,” unlike comparable recent ladino records (like Sarah Aroeste’s “Gracia”), eschews contemporary sounds in favor of what seems, at first blush, like canonical melodies.
It’s an artistic choice that emerges from a personal one. “My kids put me up against a wall,” Davis told the Forward. “They said, ‘record these songs so that we have a legacy from you.’”
“East and West” is also a reminder that even attempts to hew close to tradition are still fraught with change. “Adir Hu,” a Seder hymn, is revved up with an propellant acoustic rhythm, as is opening track, “Et Dodim,” a Mizrahi interpretation of the Song of Songs that underlines the sultry lyrics — a trilled duet closes on the words “Henesu rimonim” (“pomegranates budding”). Here, and elsewhere on the album, Davis tries to build a bridge between her Sephardic heritage and a stealth, practically unacknowledged, American folk tradition. On “Durme,” a lullaby backed by Davis’s son David on cello, she sings in the timbre of gothic Americana, striking the most haunting moment on the album.