April 1-7, 2005  
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Charming Hostess
SARAJEVO BLUES
(Tzadik)
BY JON GARELICK


Jewlia Eisenberg says that when she visited Eastern Europe to document women’s folk music in Bulgaria and Romania, "I realized I didn’t want to be an ethnomusicologist; I wanted to be a rock star." In fact, this vocalist and composer became a bit of both by founding Charming Hostess, an a cappella female vocal trio backed variously by a string trio, hand percussion, beatbox, and harmonium who traverse odd-metered Balkan folk dances and Sephardic laments with American girl-group blues. Charming Hostess’s first album, Trilectic , drew on essayist/philosopher Walter Benjamin as a source, and Sarajevo Blues is hardly less esoteric — traditional Jewish songs mixed in with the title sequence of texts by Bosnian poet Semezdin Mehmedinovic. The juxtapositions can be discomforting (as they’re meant to be), with descriptions of avoiding a sniper’s bullet set to a pop lilt. But so authoritative are the songcraft and the arrangements — with singing that can conjure the urgent close harmonies of X, the jazz of early Pointer Sisters, or mediæval polyphony — that they’re able to span Mehmedinovic’s descriptions of the extremes and the mundane. And when Charming Hostess take off on the Bulgarian Jewish song "Si Veriash La Rana" ("If You Could See the Frog"), the propulsive, high-pitched hook of its Turkish/Ladino refrain is enough to convert the contradictions of love and duty into a dervish dance of ecstasy.


(Charming Hostess perform this Friday, April 1, at 8:30 p.m. at the Center for New Words, 186 Hampshire Street in Cambridge; call 617-876-5310.)


BY JON GARELICK

Issue Date: April 1 - 7, 2005
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Charming Hostess photo

EXTREMITIES: Charming Hostess's hit single is a Turkish/Ladino Bulgarian love song.


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