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CD Review: Charming Hostess
"The Bowls Project"

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The latest work from the San Francisco Bay Area Band, Charming is called "The Bowls Project".  It’s not just an album but an art exhibit inspired by Babylonian Jewish amulets. The Bowls Project attempts a visceral connection with people who lived 1,500 years ago in the area we know now as Iraq. It's an innovative idea, and one that resonates with pop music critic Steve Hochman.


Opening Music

The bass clarinet line that opens The Bowls Project by Charming Hostess could almost be an outtake for Peter and The Wolf.  Perhaps a theme for some animal that didn’t make Prokofiev’s final cut? 


“Bird of Rivers” is the song’s title.  But a half a minute later it sounds like the birds are getting eaten by an alligator.

The Bowls Project Logo


And there, in a matter of seconds you have a hint of the range of this album.  Though even that won’t prepare you for what’s to come.  After all, this is an album that stretches from ancient Babylonia to Blind Willie Johnson, from heady folk to heavy metal, from hummable charm to dissonant harm.  It‘s an album in which a woman named Jewlia Eisenberg (and she spells it J-E-W-L-I-A) sings a song originally about Jesus making up a dying bed.  Only she doesn’t actually sing Jesus but leaves it less specific.


If that makes you think about Led Zepellin a little or a lot, it’s no accident.  This version even includes a prominent musical quote from Zepellin’s 1975 reworking under the title  “In My Time of Dying.” And if that’s not enough the album also includes an interpretation of another Zep associated song, “Hangman,” which, though leaning more towards the folk rock, carries a lot of the English band’s raw energy.


But you might ask, what does that have to do with inscribed pottery buried by Babylonian Jewish women under their homes 1500 years ago?  See that’s the thread of The Bowls Project tied to Eisenberg’s interactive art installation at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center.  From translations of the Aramaic text and the totemic nature of the decorations, Eisenberg extracted a host of spiritual longings and sensual desires--holding them up as a feminine mirror to the male–heavy Talmudic law that emerged from the same culture.  In her musical settings of these words she on one end of the scale internalizes the sense of distress and anger, notably the very hard-edged despair of the lament, “Bound and Turned Aside.”


At other points Eisenberg and her very accomplished accomplices in Charming Hostess shape the Jewish incantations and prayers into various forms.  With “Yavo-Ha-Goel,” it’s very much drawn on the sounds of the source region. 


And with a few songs such as “Merduk bat Banai” she and the band manage to forge all of these elements into a new musical language of their own. As such The Bowls Project is expressions of the musicians’ aspirations-- the ones meant to be shared and enjoyed not buried and lost.

Steve Hochman writes the weekly global music column Around the World for  He reviewed The Bowls Project by Charming Hostess.



This is a Charming Hostess archive of KQED's Califonia Report retrieved on August 21, 2010. To veiw the original page visit:

Charming Hostess | San Francisco, CA