Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird /
פאַרטעזאַנער און פאַראַזיטן Partisans & Parasites
Now this is exciting. Kahn and The Painted Bird have combined a self-conscious mix of Yiddish, cabaret, and politic protest into a rocking, rolling commentary on the politics of our times. Primarily sung in Yiddish, the combination of still-relevant older songs with new pieces by Kahn underscores the bitter satiric edge of the music. The result is searing, spot on, and rather enjoyable (if it's okay to serve up enjoyable, sometimes uncomfortable-making social commentary and have fun doing so).
Opening with Itzik Manger's "Yosl Ber" (… now I work for army brass / factory can kiss my ass / Yosl Ber serves the militar'" rolls Kahn's inspired English translation), and continuing in tone, but in English, with a Kahn original, "Parasites" in perfect cabaret form, the listener knows that great pleasure is in store. Especially notable on this number are Dan Blacksberg's trombone and Paul Brody's trumpet, and therein lies part of the power of the band: the satire is delivered by some of the best musicians available. It isn't just good for you, it tastes good.
The self-referential nature of knowing that Yiddish, for these musicians, including Kahn, is no longer a native language, but something that is picked up and made new to make a familiar statement, is especially evident on the storytelling incorporated into "Borsht Revisited" featuring everyone's favorite Russian-Jewish rapper, Vanya Zhuk with clarinet-maven-about-town Michael Winograd wailing along. Like much of this CD, it is rewarding to those who are unfamiliar with that older Yiddish culture, and with Jewish struggles of centuries—especially the last century—past. But for those with even my own smidgeon of knowledge, there are so many extra layers of irony and fun.
Those layers worth thinking apply strongly to songs such as "Six Million Germans," glorifying the vengeance planned by Nakam in the wake of the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews— or perhaps, not so subtly not so glorifying Kovner's plans,
"For look around the world today /
& consider the role vengeance plays /
'Cause history has its unpaid debts /
& is it better if we forget?"
The welcome disregard for modern Jewish political orthodoxy is in the fore, again, in Kahn's adaption of a Khasidic nign, "Dumai," pondering,
"without justice, without peace /
just a dream become a beast /
where will exile draw the line? /
in Israel or Palestine."
appropriately sung in Yiddish, followed by a Yiddish contrafacta of a 1911 song, "Di Amerikaner Shif" which was then adapted to "Dos Lid fun Titanic" and now retains a watery theme in "Khurbin Katrina." A rough English-language translation is included for the edifaction of the imperfectly multilingual, "The Destruction of New Orleans" (owing much to "Minnie the Moocher").
In this country we tend to think of the Yiddish revival as something American. One of the nifty featres of this CD is the way that Kahn highlights how there has been a different revival of Yiddish and Jewish life, alike in its vitality, in the former Soviet Union. In songs such as "Vampirn" and "Borsht" and others we get the contributions of the aforementioned Vanya Zhuk as well as Psoy Korolenko, all of whom may have met as scholarship students at KlezKanada.
Appropriately, the album closes with a relatively straight, quiet rendering of Morris Rosenfeld's "Mayn Rue-Plats." 'Nuff said. Get your own copy and then make some noise. The struggles of 100 years ago weren't resolved (and given human nature, may never be). But someone has to right back; many are. This CD makes one damn good soundtrack to that struggle.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 25 June 2010.
Personnel this recording:
Daniel Kahn: vocals, accordion, piano, ukulele, harmonica, shruti box
Michael Tuttle: contrabass, electric bass, back vocals
Hampus Melin: drums, percussion, back vocals
Michael Winograd: Bb clarinet, horn arrangements
Bert Hildebrandt: bass blarinet
Dan Blacksberg: trombone
Vanya Zhuk: 5-, 6-, 7-string electric guitars, vocals: Borsht, Yosl Ber
Johannes Paul Gräßer: violin
Frank London: trumpet (Yosl Ber, Six Million Germans, New Orleans)
Paul Brody: trumpet (Parasites, Rosen auf den web gestreut)
Geoff Berner: back vocals on Parasites
Psoy Korolenko: vocals (Rothschild, Vampirn, Dumai)
- יאָסל בער / אַ פאַטריאָט Yosl Ber / A Patriot (yid: Itsik Manger, eng: Daniel Kahn; music: David Beigelman, Henekh Kon; Joke: "A Patrioyet" collected by Immanuel Olavanger) 3:17
- Parasites (D. Kahn) 6:15
- באָרשט נאַך אַמאָל Borsht revisited (trad., add't lyrics rus: Vanya Zhok; eng: D. Kahn) 4:27
- Rats or: How I learned to stop worrying and leave the sinking ship (D. Kahn) 4:29
- Rosen auf den web gesteut—Embrace the fascists (music: Hans Eisler; ger: Kurt Tucholsky, 1931; eng: D. Kahn) 3:52
- Six Million Germans / Nakam—Vengeance (D. Kahn) 5:13
- ראָטשילדס קבר A Rothschild in your house (music: trad; Eng: D. Kahn; Rus.: Psoy Korolenko) 2:40
- וואַמפירן Вампиры Vampirn (Yid & music: trad; Eng: D. Kahn; Rus: Psoy Koroloenko) 2:17
- דומיי Dumai—Think (D. Kahn) 4:36
- חורבן קאַטרינאַ / דאָס ליד פון ניו אָרלינז Khurbn KatrinaThe Destruction of New Orleans (mus: trad., adapted from J. Rayzner by Kahn, Marcus Muller, Fabian Schnedler, after idea by David Symons) 2:36
- The Destruction of New Orleans (words: D. Kahn; music: trad., D. Kahn) 4:40
- מיין רוע-פךאַץ Mayne Rue-Plats—Where I rest (Morris Rosenfeld; Eng: D. Kahn) 4:07