In a Polish shtetl, two young men who have grown up together betrothe their unborn children, ignoring the advice of a mysterious traveler not to pledge the lives of future generations. Soon after, one of them dies, and the wife of the other dies in childbirth. The children grow up in different towns, without ever knowing of the betrothal, but the power of the vow leads them to meet each other when they are marriageable. The young woman, Leah, is promised to another man, but Channon, the son of the father who died, is a practitioner of mysticism, and seeks to win his bride through sorcery.
Much of Possessed is a collaboration with Tony Kushner (the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning playwright of Angels in America). He contributes lyrics to two songs, and the second half of the album was designed as a musical score for his play A Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds (an adaptation of Jewish folk tales by S. An-ski). The marriage of artistic sensibilities is perfect. The Klezmatics' ethos is at once deeply traditional and deeply progressive. Their music is a lively engagement with Jewishness itself, inflecting Eastern European klezmer music with other genres so seamlessly that it seems misleading even to name the other influences (classical, Dixieland, bebop, Middle Eastern folk, modern rock…). Their song catalog includes religious traditionals, but it also includes original Hebraic odes to marijuana and homosexuality. All of which is very much in line with Kushner's endless quest to sort out his own disparate influences as a gay, Jewish, democratic-socialist, Louisiana-born, New York-adopted artiste.