Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Jewface [Reboot Stereophonic, 2006]
Though these 16 dialect songs from 1905 to 1922 are generally performed by Jewish comics, gramophone megastar Billy Murray "goils" and "vys" through his only known Hebrew number, and jill-of-all-accents, Ada Jones, trills "Under the Matsos Tree." Like Irving Berlin's "Cohen Owes Me 97 Dollars," they're usually written by Jewish tunesmiths, but to the best of my knowledge neither Bert Fitzgibbon nor Al Piantadosi qualify. In other words, they're not only minstrelsy but on occasion blatantly exploitative minstrelsy, just as compiler Jody Rosen's album title implies. Nevertheless, they're good for many yocks on the order of "I'm a good Yiddisher/Buttonhole finisher" and often truly sharp, as in "He was sentimental/Not Jewish, but gentle" (that's a toreador) or "All Cohens look alike to me" (substitute the pet name of a masked, ring-tailed carnivore). They're catchy and well-sung--try Fanny Brice's "Becky Is Back in the Ballet" or Rhoda Bernard's "Nat'an"--and orchestrated with some variety. They're history; they make you think about the compulsion to racial stereotype in American humor. But mostly they're just a delight--talent enjoying itself without inhibition. If you disapprove, consult a proctologist. A-