By Sarah Moore
The fresh-sounding sextet Golem combines folk and punk with Klezmer rock in their latest release, Fresh Off Boat. The band got its name from the Jewish Frankenstein in Prague (rabbis created man-like creatures for conducting errands, according to legend). But these are not your ordinary Fiddler on the Roof sounds. While incorporating traditional Yiddish tunes and lyrics (which the liner notes oh-so-thoroughly translate), Golem punctuates the sonic alloy with punk rock, just as Yiddish infuses Hebrew with German languages. With a gypsy vibe and Aaron Diskin and Annette Ezekiel's thick and mostly-Yiddish vocals, the disc flows as if at a multi-cultural festival. I keep looking around for the latkes.
Golem succeeds in presenting timeless, everyday events (weddings, folk dancing, getting drunk) throughout while creating a contemporary homage to the culture. While Ezekiel's accordion employs an upbeat, Baltic sound, violinist Alicia Jo Rabins adds a sad, whining, underlying aspect to the songs. Drummer Tim Monaghan and trombonist Curtis Hasselbring round out the group's eclectic and traditional sound. Diskin (whose credits include the cover artwork) and Ezekiel (who is the founder and "visionary leader" of the group) toy with the guttural nature of the language, especially in "School of Dance" and "Charlatan-Ka." The latter song provides a clear-cut example of the punk attitude ("I'm a bad girl who always gets what she wants"). The only non-traditional song is "Warsaw is Khelm," featuring vocals by Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls). "Warsaw" functions as an existentially-depressing return to stone-cold reality from the triumphant, celebratory mood. Diskin adds a colorful, dramatic aspect to the music, especially in "Ushti Baba," as he adds his shrieking yodels. Taylor Bergren-Chrisman on contrabass adds a certain level of contrast to the treble sounds, allowing for a variety of low-end sounds when Mike Gordon appears on a single track ("Golem Hora"). Gordon's Jewish roots, as well as his covering "Hava Nagila" in his Phish days, made him a perfect choice for a guest musician. Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith) also contributes some guitar work on the drunken track. In this song, and pretty much the entire disc, "Where is the lime and salt?" becomes the most important question of the day.
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