Jew of Oklahoma: The Triumph of Assimilation
A Cannily Handcrafted, Smart, Fun and Decidedly Relevant Album.
Mark Rubin, the self-proclaimed Jew of Oklahoma, and co-founder of the Austin, Texas Americana band the Bad Livers, says this about using the banjo to play traditional Jewish songs:
“It’s an instrument of my tradition, and Yiddish culture is also my tradition, so for me, at least, I don’t see why not.”
Rubin, who’s played in traditional bluegrass and country bands for decades, is set on setting the record straight and righting wrongs with his album; The Triumph of Assimilation.
Rubin has remarked that he has as much a right to sing Folk songs and play the banjo as anyone, regardless of his DNA.
“Jewish-Americana” is an apt, well-deserved, and fitting description.
Kicking off with “A Day of Revenge,” a song based on a poem by Mordechai Gebirtig, Rubin sets the stage for an album of Folk-based and Yiddish-fuelled songs.
“Revenge” comes off first as revenge fantasy, then makes a hard left turn before the instruments fade.
“It’s Burning” is a wake up call for everyone to realize the tools most needed to affect a change are available to us all as long as we’re willing to open our eyes. As a Jewish person currently living in New Orleans, Rubin understands fully the difficulties with staying kosher in the ham-laden Southern States.
His song “Down South Kosher (A Dance of Hunger and Reconciliation)” is less a novelty song and more a clever and witty social commentary disguised as a novelty song.
Of course, the best way to follow a song like this is with the darkest song on the album.
If Rubin’s goal with this album is to right wrongs, “The Murder of Leo Frank” is a great place to start.
Frank was wrongly accused of the rape and murder of Mary Phagan; then hung by a lynch mob.
Rubin sets the story straight once and for all.
One of the finest things about this song is Rubin mentioning folk songwriter John Carson and the injustice he caused by fanning the flames of antisemitism with his songs.
Carson, a racist and KKK member singlehandedly inflected as much damage as possible just to get attention and Rubin does a fine job of wresting that from Carson, with his factual lyrics and impassioned singing.
Which brings to my mind the murder ballad album World Without End by songwriters John Murry and Bob Frank—instead of singing murder ballads of old, they wrote entirely new ones, based on true events. Dark, violent, and certainly not for the squeamish, Rubin’s “The Murder of Leo Frank” would fit right in and that’s a hell of a compliment. “Yiddish Banjo Suite” is a medley of three Yiddish tunes performed on a five-string banjo. Lively and fun, bizarrely this would fit right in during a Saturday night Square Dance.
How long before one of the many Psychedelic Bluegrass Jam bands pick up on this one, as it’s ripe for jamming and layers of improvisation.
(WAIT A MINUTE, did I say “Psychedelic Bluegrass Jam bands?” Yes, sadly, I did.)
“Unnatural Disasters” is more wry social commentary because; hey, Fake News is all the rage these days, and you just know that the Jews are behind everything bad that’s happening; with their space lasers and global warming and ‘stuff’; don ‘cha?
“Good Shabbes” is actually such great advice this old gentile should take it up.
Smartest thing I’ve heard in a long while:
“You can put that phone away, it can wait til another day.”
Okay, there’s more, but you get the gist of it. Mark Rubin, The Jew of Oklahoma, has crafted a smart, fun, relevant album and you should definitely give it a listen or three.
What? Would it kill you?
Released 1st June 2021
Review by Roy Peak
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