With its frenetic live shows, Golem has gotten mad props for making traditional Jewish folk more accessible to the masses. On their second album, however, the six members decided to step further away from the confines of their chosen genre and find the accordion’s place in mainstream pop music. The result, Citizen Boris, is successful on certain levels, but it probably won’t make Yiddish fusion folk a genre to watch in 2009. While the music is engaging and very obviously the product of musicians who believe in what they are doing, at no point does Citizen Boris make the crucial leap from being good genre music to simply good music.
The engine that drives Golem is singer, songwriter and accordion player Annette Ezekiel-Kogan. Her main focus as a musician has always been to celebrate her heritage. 2006’s Fresh Off Boat contained a selection of traditional Jewish songs, and a good portion of the lyrics were delivered in Yiddish. Ezekiel-Kogan continues along these thematic lines on Citizen Boris, but penned more of the songs herself. She taped interviews with her family members and did research about the lives of Ukranian immigrants to make her voice one of authority on the subject. She succeeds on all counts here. As a history lesson and cultural remembrance, Citizen Boris should be a source of pride for the Jewish community.
This is clearly a large part of Golem’s objective as a band, but it hampers the it’s ability to appeal to a larger audience. While the music on Citizen Boris is enjoyable, at no point did it leave my mind that the musicians put their ideology before marketability. The scrupulous choice of theme and further inclusion Yiddish proscribes the audience for the album. Even the band’s label, JDub Records, is “dedicated to innovative Jewish music.” Golem fits this bill, but Citizen Boris lacks the broad appeal to bring in a wider audience.