Charming Hostess / Eat

damn good punk attitude with emigre type.Charming Hostess

Originally on: Vaccination Records, 1997, VAC 016

CD and mp3 downloads available from the Charming Hostess website

A few years ago, I got this amazing fusion of punk and women's music with balkan and klezmer and eastern european melodies transformed into something new and vital and fun and amazing. So I talked about the album to everyone I knew (this for instance, to the Jewish-Music mailing list, back in July 1998):

I've just begun listening to an album by an Oakland, CA group called "Charming Hostess." Gideon Aronoff also wrote about them in his Forverts article last month. Although they mostly sing/play music that is somewhere between punk rock and Bulgarian village music, they do reworkings of "Sha Shtil*" and "Di Grine Kuzine" that blow my mind. The major transform is that short hop to Bulgarish, but the harmonies and the tight playing are absolutely wonderful. Their version of "Sha Shtil" really captures the quiet of the song.

that caused list-member Corey Marc Fogel, to respond with his own observations:

This album is very amazing. Sometimes the textures could be richer, because alot of times its just violin and vocals up towards the higher register, and then the rhythm section. They use an accordion live though.... The members are involved in lots of different musical projects, one of them including clarinetist Ben Goldberg's (New Klezmer Trio) jewish/free jazz cd on the Avant label, "called 12 Minor"

Because I liked them so much, I always put off reviewing their album until I could do a really thoughtful, thorough review. Then, in the rush of too much happening all the time, which is the usual state of things here, I loaned the album to a friend, and forgot to do the review. This was discovered last week when I noticed that the band is appearing in Philly's Sixth Annual Intergalactic Jewish Festival, so I went to link to the review and discovered, with a face redder than usual, that there was no record on the KlezmerShack to note how incredible, how outstanding, how vital, fresh, and exciting this band is. Roughly, the band consists of women who do (among other harmonies) those amazing half-step-off Bulgarian Village Choir harmonies, backed by a delightful, solidly disharmonic rhythm section. Damn this stuff is good. This is the type of music that Tzadik would be publishing if they weren't busy tending towards Jewish Windham Hill background music. But better, fresher, and still more accessible.

The album opens with a rocking version of a Bulgarian village folk song and continues with vivid personal imagery in "Laws of Physics." As the album proceeds, the band mixes in their own songs, sometimes even a capella, as on "Mi Dimandas", a Sephardic song transformed by the Bulgarian harmonies. Or, they mess with your sense of what is: "Sha Shtil" isn't "Sssh, the rebbe is about to sing," instead, it's a setting of a yiddish proverb set to bulgarian harmonies, capturing the quiet of the moment in a deeper way than the more familiar song ever did. And then, on "Ferret Said" the band moves into hard-edged territory, musically and lyrically. And I think that is part of what makes this album so vital. It is a very focused, very hard-edged exploration of life and love and the human condition, grounded more than most in tradtional music, but also, inesculpably and joyously part of our own grungy age. True folk music for our time. True stories of life and people working out the boundaries of our time, especially working out women's issues of our time, from physical self-image to being beaten by a drunken spouse, or dealing with monogamy (or lack thereof).

Sometimes, listening to this album I think of the first Holly Near album I heard, her "Live Album" of the mid-Seventies, and I think that if Near had grown up with punk, and with music from eastern Europe, this is the strong woman's album that she might have sung, had she been sufficiently prescient to capture the sounds that the band has recorded here. (Disclosure: I have also heard band musical director Jewlia Eisenberg leading a perfectly traditional Jewish sing-along at a friend's son's bar mitzvah.)

It's all performed exquisitely well. These harmonies are perfect. The instrumental backing is perfect. The melding is invidious: A bulgarian folk song acquires a klezmer melody; a traditional gospel song is recorded at Oakland, California's "Temple Sinai". It's three years later and it still rings true, and it's still on the edge. And I'm not loaning out this album any more. Unfortunately, because the album came out a few years ago, and it's not mainstream, supplies are limited. Buy yours today, or too darn bad. They may be out of print any day.

Reviewed by Ari Davidow 21 Nov 00

Personnel this recording:
Jewlia Eisenberg: voice, musical direction
Carla Kihlstedt: voice
Nina Rolle: voice
Wesley Anderson: drums and percussion
Dan Rathburn: bass, gumby
Nils Frykdahl: sax, flute, guitar, percussion
Jenny Scheinman: fiddle

Mark Stichman: blues harp on 6
Rebekah Ekberg: vocals on 8, 13
Laura Nicodemus: vocals on 8, 13
Andy Pansy Borger: table on 9
Morgan Guberman: vocals, track 14
Chuck Squier: drums, tracks 10, 13


  1. Dali Tzerni (trad Bulgarian; arr. Eisenberg, CH) 2:30
  2. Laws of Physics (text: Jewlia Eisenberg; music: Eisenberg, CH) 4:19
  3. Mi Nuera (trad. Ladino; music: trad. Moroccan wedding music; arr. JE and CH) 3:14
  4. Won't you keep us working (The Residents; arr. JE & CE) 2:35
  5. Give him a little time (text: JE; music: trad. Hungarian; arr. JE & CH) 4:11
  6. Mi Dimandas (words: trad. Ladino; music: trad. Jewish women's song from Turkey; arr. JE) 2:21
  7. Ferret Said (text: JE; music: JE & CH) 5:40
  8. Dilmano Dilbero (trad. Bulgarian, after TV show theme song arrangement by Phillipe Koutev; re-arranged: JE & CH) 1:40
  9. Oh Julie (trad. African-American from Alabama; arr. JE & CH) 3:25
  10. Sha Shtil (text: trad. Yiddish; music: JE) 3:25
  11. Klezsex (text: Hyman Prizant; music: Abe Schwartz; arr. JE & CH) 2:26
  12. Elenke (text: Bulgarian; music: trad. Bulgarian plus Abe Schwartz; arr. JE & CH) 5:23
  13. I'm not hungry (text: JE; music: trad. Bulgarian; vocal arr. Phillipe Koutev; re-arr. JE & CH) 2:15
  14. When Jesus Christ was here on earth (trad. white gospel from VA, USA; arr. JE) 4:03
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This also demonstrates the difference between hearing an album for the first few times, and then enough to write a review in which on notices that, except for the name, there is no connection between the Yiddish folksong that begins "sha shtil" and the Yiddish art song in question. [return]

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