Charming Hostess - Eat (Vaccination Records VAC 016, CD, 1999)
Is this the Bittova and Fajt of the SF bay area? This fine, extended ensemble, led by director Jewlia Eisenberg, is fronted by an incredibly talented trio of ladies, singing a variety of music from the Residents (a cover of "Won't You Keep Us Working" is here) to klezmer (and related traditionals/semi-traditionals) to strange moments of avant-rock. Take the trio, who are so elaborate in their arrangements that they could have pulled it off a capella (and yes there are some moments like this here as well), and mix in ex-Idiot Flesh/currently Sleepytime Gorilla Museum musicians Dan Rathburn and Nils Frykdahl (not to mention one of the vocalists, Carla Kihlstedt, is also in SGM), a drummer and violinist. The resulting blending is a musical concotion that is just utterly infectious, intensely joyous, and totally addicting. The vocalists make it really easy to be instantly drawn into the music on first listen, as they whirl like dervishes through an astounding number of harmonies, polyrhythms and solo appearances that would force a grin out of the most ardently critical musicologist. While Rathburn and Frykdahl definitely take second chair to the singing, their contributions are tasteful and add much to the musical cornucopia, leading a rhythm section that adds a perfect balance to the vocal gymnastics. It all adds up to glorious selection of songs in a hybrid so esoteric that one goggles at the sheer joy of the discovery. Warmly recommended!
(To be published in Exposť #23)
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