Mark Rubin/The Triumph of Assimilation/Rubinchik Recording
3.5 stars out of Four Stars
By his own admission, Mark Rubin could be considered something an enigma—a man who steadfastly holds to his Jewish faith while also embracing the Americana traditions of bluegrass, folk and other down-home designs. His newly album, aptly titled The Triumph of Assimilation, addresses the disparities that exist between culture and country—musically, socially and otherwise. That discussion is specifically addressed in the song “Down South Kosher” where he attempts to bridge the divide by suggesting that his religion and his reverence for American musical tradition can, in fact, exist side by side. He takes a serious approach to the diaspora with “Murder of Leo Frank,” the true tale of the hanging of a Jewish citizen living in Atlanta by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
It’s a harrowing tale, and one that could easily shift the tone and temperament towards sadness and solemnity, but like many Jews, Rubin keeps an upbeat attitude flush with humor and optimism. That, in fact, is the prime reason why The Triumph of Assimilation stays so true to its title. Once a native of Oklahoma—hence his acquired nickname “Jew of Oklahoma”—now a current resident of New Orleans, Rubin looks past the stereotypes surrounding both region and religion, and seeks instead to find the common bonds.
A former member of the alt-country punk band Bad Livers, he’s well adept at bridging that divide, and here he does so adroitly on songs such as “Yiddish Banjo Tunes,” “Good Shabbes,” “Avinu Malkeinu” and the traditional Chanukah tune “Spin the Dreidel.” His multi-instrumental skills on guitar, banjo, string bass, mandolin and tuba are all put to good use diffusing any divide between bluegrass and Judaism, albeit in wholly unexpected ways. The fact that neither of these disparate strands veer close to the mainstream is especially significant, given that when the two elements do meet, the accessibility factor weighs in fairly favorably.
Ultimately, The Triumph of Assimilation comes across as an affable affair, albeit one that often comes across with a decidedly tongue-in-cheek approach, an amiable offering that’s flush with good natured intent. Consider this a triumph indeed.