Published Jun 15, 2018Who'd have thought that aged Eastern European music could sound so accessible, thanks to some pointed modern twists? Credit Ben Caplan, arguably the East coast's most ambitious folk troubadour, with elevating his already established bygone bona fides on an even bolder new concept album that's hooky enough to snag you from the get go.
Dubbed Old Stock, the new LP is based upon a stage musical of the same name that Caplan starred in and co-wrote with Christian Barry and Hannah Moscovitch. That production, like the album, tells the story of Moscovitch's ancestors, Jewish Romanian refugees who fled the anti-Semitic violence of their homeland in favour of Halifax in 1908. It's a historic tale about immigration, asylum and bucking against bigotry that reverberates all the more in this era of open hostility to outsiders.
And while Caplan's lyrics and forthright delivery are as vivid as a novel, he and his band's offbeat takes on the era's sonics are what will keep you coming back. Clarinets blurt with jubilation on "Minimum Intervals," for instance, while accordion notes linger long and hauntingly on "Intermezzo 2," not to mention the more modern hard-rocking guitar and drums juxtaposed with spasmodic horn squeals on "Plough the Shit." All these elements mesh most intriguingly on "Od Yishama," a time-honoured Jewish wedding song on which Caplan sings passionately, while accordion notes groan with aplomb.
If you think these descriptions are unlike anything you've heard, you're right. But don't be wary. Once your ears adjust, you'll be quickly engrossed in this intimately epic tale of yesteryear's refugees — in part because it's so sonically unique, and of course also because that vintage tale is sadly still so relatable today. (Rhyme and Reason)