Music: Here Comes Trouble
If you want something done right, do it yourself. And if you can’t do it yourself, get your Talmudic sisters to help you. This seems to be the motto held by the many women who appear in the scrolls of the Torah. Matriarchs, seductresses, prophets, and mothers line up one by one in fearsome succession to challenge the laws and men, who would have otherwise cast them away into the obscure corners of apocryphal writings. Not a chance, if Alicia Jo Rabins has anything to say about it (actually she has a lot to say about it). The Brooklyn-based poet/singer/songwriter/violinist has given voice to the powerful women of old with her innovative Girls In Trouble ongoing art-rock song cycle (and full band), which pays homage to the dark stories of Biblical women and their struggles. Rabins is bringing Girls In Trouble to Great Barrington, this Saturday, October 27, at Hevreh. And while her subject matter may seem a bit sectatrian for iconocalstic Berkshire audiences, Rabins promises that there is a kernel of wisdom in her music for everyone – Kosher and non-, old and young, Jew and Gentile, intellectual and musical.
“When we play rock clubs I often let the songs be mythical stories without specifying the source material,” she says. “It’s always nice when we play synagogues because (since I do have a Masters in Jewish Studies and a lot of years studying and teaching texts) I can really talk about the Torah texts, which is always nice.”
Rabins wasn’t always a scholar. In fact, her origins as a musician reach back to the violin, which she picked up at the age of three. Several years and many Bach concertos later, she packed her bags for Jerusalem where she dove into studying the Torah and Kabbalah and found herself enmeshed in the tales of the women within them. After two years, Rabins returned to the states and made a leap of faith and spirituality, combining the stories now burned in her brain with her second love, fiddle music, a love she nurtured just a few short miles away in Northampton, where she was a founding member of The Mammals, that beloved string band that often pays a visit to Becket’s Dream Away Lodge, where she and her husband, Girls In Trouble bassist Aaron Hartman, were married, a ceremony she describes as “divine.”
Naturally, divinity is front-and-center in Rabins’ music. Light fiddle plucking combines with her lilting vocals to create a playlist of lullabies. Yet, while the songs themselves are musically pleasant, the subject matter is heavy with heartbreak, danger, and Biblical-age politics. The group’s latest release, Half You Half Me (JDub Records, 2011), includes “DNA”, a song about wronged sisters Leah and Rachel of the book of Genesis. The lyrics—“Some sisters stay home and some sisters leave/Some sisters get what the other one needs/Some sisters blossom and some sisters bleed” – are set to joyous string sounds and a vibrant percussion and Rabins’ crystalline voice (reminiscent of The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan). This intense, religiously-laden mix is exactly the kind of show Arlene Schiff, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires (the event’s co-sponsor), is always on the lookout for to bring to the region’s diverse audience.
“I decided to bring Girls In Trouble to the Berkshires because Alicia offers a unique, musical insight into the women of the Torah, and after listening to her music online I thought she would be a draw,” she says. “Shimon Ben Shir Group is the group who performed at Hevreh last year. The purpose of these concerts is to offer the community an opportunity to experience the wide variety of Jewish music and those who create it.”
After her show at Hevreh, Rabins is leaving Girls In Trouble behind, at least for a little while, to pursue a more modern subject. Beginning next month, she will hit the road with A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff, a one-woman rock opera/“musical essay” that “traces a year of obsession with Bernie Madoff to investigate the intersection of mysticism and finance, the inevitability of cycles, and the true meaning of wealth.” While the chasm between the childless Chana and the fraudulent stockbroker appears too wide and chronologically deep to cross, Rabins insists that there is a message in everything, especially if set to music.
“Well, I think a lot of being an artist is synthesizing worlds. But I also don’t feel like there’s much difference between music and spirituality, really,” she says. “So many people find or express their spirituality through music. They’re both intangible things about being alive, which are deeply human and impossible to put into words. To me they feel quite close.” —Nichole Dupont
Co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, Hevreh, and Congregation Ahavath Sholom