Under capitalism, you can be a good person, but often someone unknown and far away pays a high price for the goods and freedoms we enjoy in North America, Europe, and other wealthy zones. That’s the premise of The Butcher’s Share, the Painted Bird’s fifth disc including their 2005 debut: a pointed reminder that we are not what we think we are.
It seems like Kahn and his band were transported back in time 100 years, to Weimar era Berlin, or perhaps sometime after the Second War. The music, as well as the cover art (reminiscent of Grosz), evoke memories of an era when the world was waiting for the next cataclysm.
However, The Butcher’s Share was recorded in Berlin, in the 21st Century..
“Let’s take a walk around the old bazaar/where every little thing has travelled far/every pair of pants and grain of rice/contains a horror story in its price.”
The Painted Bird’s post-klezmer vibe is apt for the subject matter. In “Freedom is a verb” we are further reminded that freedom’s not achieved for once and all, its an ongoing activity. “Images of murder that don’t manage to disturb, an international order that is bordering absurd.”
A number of the songs feature choruses in both English and Yiddish. “Arbeiter Froyen - Working Women” is a beautiful ode to working women engaged in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality.
And indeed, having just heard that “freedom is a verb” we are made to wonder why so few are engaged in this struggle today, when inequality has never been so great.
Another haunting track “Children in the Woods” paints an unforgettable, post-holocaust scene. And this is followed by “Silent Stars - Shtil di Nakht Iz Oysgeschternt” - where the Vilna Ghetto partisan exacts, perhaps, a kind of revenge.
This is a powerful, disturbing statement about humanity, and comes out of a very old tradition, powerfully reminding us that, in the end, as Kahn sings, “No one survives.” - David Cox
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The Painted Bird is Daniel Kahn on vocals, accordions, guitars, piano, bird whistle and harmonica; Michael Tuttle on bass and backing vocals; Hampus Melin ondrums, percussion; Christian Dawid on claranets, saxes; Jack Shulman-Ment on violin; Dan Blacksberg, trombone; and a further cast of guest musicians and vocalists.