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[MUSIC REVIEW] Avalon Quartet in Close Encounters at Mahaiwe
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[FILM REVIEW] Bill Cunningham New York
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[FILM REVIEW] Bill Cunningham New York
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[MUSIC REVIEW] This girl means trouble



(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., October 20, 2008) -- It's rare for an audience to get in on the ground floor of a new musical project, and it's even rarer when, as was the case last night with Alicia Jo Rabins's GIRLS IN TROUBLE ensemble at Club Helsinki, it's on an elevator that seems destined for a quick ride to the penthouse suite.

An outgrowth of her graduate studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, GIRLS IN TROUBLE is Rabins's unique fusion of musical and Biblical midrash. It's also the
first fully developed, entirely personal work of creativity sprung from Rabins's voracious and eclectic appetite for all things musical, intellectual, spiritual, and poetic, and, still in its infancy, a remarkable, jaw-dropping success that had listeners in the club mesmerized by the awesome implications of Rabins's talent and idiosyncratic creation.

Both the name of the band and the project, GIRLS IN TROUBLE is a song cycle revisiting the stories of mostly forgotten Biblical women, including Dinah, Miriam, Tamar, and Samson's first wife. In story and song, Rabins explores the
harrowing stories of these women, mining them for their oft-overlooked lessons of courage and heroism as well as their more ambivalent messages of weakness and surrender.

Rabins doesn't shy away from the uglier lessons inherent in some of these stories and the behavior of their heroes (or anti-heroes); neither is she didactic about any of this at all. Rather, she is pulled off the seemingly impossible: a song cycle as serious as anything in 19th century music that also functions entirely as entertainment: think Liz Phair crossed with Camille Paglia, or Regina Spektor channeling Susan Brownmiller.

In other words, Rabins rocks.

That, in itself, was one of the revelations (pardon my Judeo-Christianity) of the evening: those who have followed Rabins's career have enjoyed seeing her talents evolve as a founding member of the folk-roots group the Mammals, for which she played fiddle and sang a little, through various other string-band and Appalachian folk efforts, in concert and on record, and, most prominently, her role as the fiddler in the popular Yiddish-klezmer outfit Golem.

While there are hints of all this in GIRLS IN TROUBLE, the project introduces an entirely new side of Rabins, one that for the most part has never before been seen or heard. Here she is an electric guitar-wielding bandleader, front and center, singing and performing her own songs that defy categorization but are essentially indie-rock songs in sheep's clothing.

Backed by an ace ensemble including Golem bandmate Tim Monaghan on drums, organist Jascha Hoffman, and bassist Aaron Hartman, Rabins was a compelling frontwoman, her vocals veering from soft, tender balladry to soaring,
keening wails, borne by music that took daring, inventive, chromatic leaps that surprised listeners as they betrayed Rabins's compositional studies in conservatory. The musical and rhythmic arc of several of her tunes suggested a
firm grounding in the works of Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell, while the greater aspect of what she was accomplishing through her poetry -- which, while serving
the stories, stood entirely on its own through its riff-based imagery -- and music suggested a female version of Leonard Cohen.

A solo tune with looped violin parts was a clear homage to one of her musical heroes, Laurie Anderson, and suggested that in more than one way, as much as GIT functions simply as an indie-rock band, it's subsumed under an umbrella of
performance art. But this is just more of the beauty of what Rabins accomplishes here: she has created a musical form entirely suited to and based upon the content, yet a mutable one that can prosper as easily in synagogue as it can on the rock stage.

GIRLS IN TROUBLE is in its earliest stages, with less than a handful of public performances behind it. The group will head into the recording studio in late November to turn Rabins's creations into digital bytes that will see the light of day next spring on JDub Records. Those in attendance at Club Helsinki last night got an early taste of what is undoubtedly going to be an exciting musical
development, certainly in the Jewish music field, but more rightly in the indie-rock field at large, once it gets before larger and more diverse audiences that will flock to the group for its many faceted pleasures, including its grit, melodicism, wit, intelligence, groove -- and no shortage of sex appeal. After all, these are GIRLS IN TROUBLE.

Seth Rogovoy is an award-winning music critic and author of THE ESSENTIAL KLEZMER and the forthcoming TALMUD OF BOB DYLAN.

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