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Charming Hostess: Sarajevo Blues

Dan McClenaghan By

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Charming Hostess—Jewlia Eisenberg with Marika Hughes and Cynthia Taylor—sounds like a Phil Spector '60s girl group that decided to fire the famed producer, telling him on the way out the door, "So long, pal, we got some ideas of our own." Their ideas, on Sarajevo Blues, are in the socially concious/protest vein; they make their music with handclaps and sweet harmonies, vocal percussion, sex-breath, a beatbox, cello, and violin, telling the story of war in Sarajevo, working with the text by Bosnian poet Sem Mehmedinovic to create an upbeat and beautiful sound.

Many of the themes explored here are heavy, but in the mode of Phil Ochs'1ate-1960s hit "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends" or Country Joe's "Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag," Charming Hostess—a self-described "Nerdy-sexy-commie-girlie band"—juxtaposes thematically weighty issues with bright, exuberant sounds, telling tales of horror with a life-affirming sound that thumbs its nose at the venal stupidity of those who wage war.

"Death Is A Job"—a hit record for a new millennium—is the highlight for this listener, a story of crossing an intersection to avoid a sniper's bullet and running into a war photographer, a tale told with doo-wop vocals backed by a beatbox, a tight rhythm full of glorious girl group energy.

If it all sounds like a weighty listen—grenades and blood washed away by rain, bullets flying—the disc can enjoyed on musical terms alone. Moments like the cello/bass interplay behind the vocals on "Zenica Blues" are heaven, as are the vocal harmonies throughout, along with the pure feminine energy of it all.

An informed source tells me Charming Hostess is quite something in a live setting. They're quite something on disc, too.

Visit Charming Hostess on the web.


Track Listing: Viva Orduenya, Si Veriash La Rana, War, The Tunnel, Imam Bey's Mosque, Exodus, Expulsion, What Will You Remember, Grbavica, Death Is A Job, A Relatively Calm Day, Zenica Blues, Open Dialogue, Adam, Aish Ye K'dish

Personnel: Jewlia Eisenberg--voice, harmonium; Marika Hughes--voice, cello; Cynthia Taylor--voice; with special guests: Wesley Anderson, Juliet Lee--drums; Tim Barsky--beatbox; Devin Hoff--double bass; Dan Rathbunbass; Carla Kihlstedt--violin; Nils Frykdahl--nylon oud, voice; Ishay Sommer--guitars, electronics; Roy Yarkoni--keyboards; Yoav Klein--bassoons

Title: Sarajevo Blues | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Tzadik


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