Mark Rubin / Songs for the Hangman's Daughter
When I started writing this review in my head, I realized that there is virtually no Jewish bluegrass to which I can listen. Subtract Andy Statman (granted, he is a giant) and there is pretty much nothing to which I would voluntarily listen. Barring, of course, the musician who produced the recording I am going to try to describe.
Mark Rubin has been playing for a long time. Originally hailing from Oklahoma, he wound up in Austin for a long while playing just about everything from polka to klezmer (which is where I met him). His beat is traditional music. Doesn't matter what tradition so much, so long as it's got good roots. His alt-bluegrass-ish duo, "Bad Livers" was well-regarded and made several popular recordings. In the last few years he has relocated to New Orleans, and has begun standing up for himself and releasing solo recordings. They are a god-damn treat, and anyone reading this, and feeling of a similar mind, should rush to the web and get a copy immediately. Play it. Rubin isn't the happiest person. He is an in-your-face Jewish person who writes songs worth actually paying attention to. Listening to his recordings is one of the best ways to make a grey day feel better. He's wicked smart, too. "Southern Jews" is going to sound very familiar to anyone who has spent time in the deep south. I only spent my high school years in Dallas, but as Rubin sings, "it's just them Yankees I'm worried about." And, who else would write a bluegrass ballad called "Hangman's Daughter" and pair it with Tevye's "yubba boy boys." (Okay, probably the same person who put the ballad, "The murder of Leo Frank" on his first solo release.)
Rubin ranges far and wide, from drugs to mental illness, to one of my favorite songs for these dark times: "The darkside has doughnuts." Even there, alas, he speaks the truth.
I would write more, but the basic facts are these. Rubin writes good songs. He makes great albums. This is a bluegrass album which includes a lot of songs about Jews and being Jewish (among other subjects). It isn't klezmer. It isn't religious (although there is a song about learning your roots, "Teshuvah"). I does contain one Yiddish song, mostly in English with Rubin's own lyrics. If there is an ethos to this album, it is captured in the opening song, written by Kevin Russel: "I'm not going to live like that ship wrecked man / cursing the ocean from my solitary sand / I want to be saved / in peace and love carried to my grave." Like doughnuts, good stuff in this difficult times. But, just in case, carry a ballpeen clawhammer, and get yourself a copy of "Songs for the hangman's daughter." If you like what you hear (you will), you can help Mark distribute the CD by subscribing to his GoFundMe campaign.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 30 Apr 2017.
Personnel this recording:
Mark Rubin: guitar, banjo, vocals
- The Shipwrecked Man (Kevin “shinyribs” Russel) 2:39
- Single Joint 2:28
- The Hangman's Daughter 3:27
- Southern Jews Is Good News 3:31
- Slow Moving Trainwreck 4:14
- Royal Street Shuffle 3:20
- Play All By Myself 2:42
- Vi Iz Dus Gesele? (words: M. Rubin; music: trad.) 2:20
- Ballpeen Clawhammer 1:45
- Teshuvah 4:00
- Rainbow Sign 2:09
- Sugar Hill 1:32
- Lumpy, Beanpole and Dirt (Bad Livers) 2:06
- The Dark Side Has Doughnuts 1:04
All songs copyright Mark Rubin, unless otherwise noted.