Catching up with Josh Dolgin at Ashkenaz
Josh "Socalled" Dolgin was ubiquitous at this past Ashkenaz (continuing my coverage of Ashkenaz 2014—if this goes on much longer, it won't end until I switch to KlezKamp coverage). He DJ'd late at night. He did magic tricks for kids. He interviewed Canadian folkie Geoff Berner about Berner's new novel. You could pick up copies of his little books of puns at the souvenir stand. No performances of his own music.
Truth is, Socalled appears to exploring a larger world outside Jewish remixes. We saw him evolving as a songwriter on recent recordings (see below), and in fact, his current project is the musical, "The Season." It sounds zany and fun, but is outside the scope of these pages. That being the case, let's work backwords for a while. But, I'll also note that there is a kind of neat capsule of the incredible diversity of Socalled's early Jewish-connected work in "The 'Socalled' Movie," back in 2010. You'd think someone this young doesn't yet need a movie. But, if you are at all familiar with his music, you'll have a lot of fun. And if you aren't familiar, this is a great introduction.
In 2011, Dolgin released the Sleepover. To my ear, this was the first that focused primarily on Socalled the Canadian songwriter and hiphop artist, without any klezmer, and without any yiddish. With hits like "UNLVD," "Work with what you got," and "Richi," it's a lovely hiphop-ish, even pop-ish release. Featuring an abundance of Katie Moore's amazing voice, it is his most tuneful and soulful release to date, but also a curious one—a bit of a grabbag, as though he wasn't sure where he was going, but also wasn't going to hold back from trying whatever came to mind. The standout, for me, is a cover of the old Peggy Seeger anthem, "Springhill Mine Disaster." Sung at a faster clip than most versions, it is nonetheless beautiful. It is also one of the few songs to feature Socalled's highly expressive singing voice. More typical is the upbeat, calypso-tinged "Work with what you got." But then, just when you figure you've got the changes figured out, you encounter the "Richi" remixes at the end—a short Irving Fields solo piano gem, and a 15-minute dance remix by Derrick Carter. Like all Socalled releases, you can catch up with this one at the Socalled store.
One of my favorite all-time releases is this all-star gem featuring David Krakauer, Socalled, and Fred Wesley (better known with James Brown). Jewish klezmer yiddish hiphop fun! I can't cover this in one paragraph. You can read the entire review of Tweet Tweet, or just rush to the website and get your own copy.
In 2007, Socalled released the first CD to primarily feature his own songs (as opposed to the inspired remixing and rapping he had been doing for years). "You are never alone," singing of the 'Yiddish Cowboy' is a post-klezmer-revival classic, and that's just one of the songs. There is a full review of Socalled / Ghettoblaster finally up on the KlezmerShack. And, as above, you can get your own copy at the Socalled store.
The most recent Krakauer-Socalled collaboration (excepting Abraham Inc, of course, and the very different intro/outro pieces composed for Krakauer's recording of Messiaen's "Quartet for the end of time" released last spring) was 2005's Bubbemeises. You can read more about this wild klezmer-jazz-hiphop collaboration on David Krakauer & Josh 'Socalled' Dolgin / Bubbemeises
As I was saying, Socalled was over the place at Ashkenaz 2014. But if it's Socalled's music you're looking for, these cover the last decade. Enjoy.