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Album review: Gogol Bordello's 'Trans-Continental Hustle'

April 27, 2010 |  6:31 am

Gogol_240 Following a decade-long climb from New York’s rock underground to prominent bookings at virtually every music festival in the world, Gogol Bordello seems poised for a big-time breakthrough: The band’s new album is its first for a major label and was produced by Rick Rubin, A-list shaman to a diverse galaxy of stars that includes the Dixie Chicks, Metallica and Johnny Cash.

Yet, if “Trans-Continental Hustle” represents Gogol Bordello’s chance to crack the mainstream — to attract listeners, for instance, who might’ve witnessed the band’s collaboration with Madonna at Live Earth a few years ago — the gypsy-punk group certainly hasn’t softened its attack for the occasion.

In “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher),” frontman Eugene Hütz growls over thrashing double-time guitars, “In corridors full of tear gas our destinies jammed every day, like deleted scenes from Kafka flushed down the bureaucratic drain.” Strong words from this mustachioed Ukrainian émigré — and words he improbably endows with pop-song power.

Hütz has said that Rubin encouraged him to focus on his songwriting as opposed to the band’s frantic live show, and “Hustle” bears out that claim with catchier melodies and more slogan-ready lyrics, such as this one from “Raise the Knowledge”: “Revolution is internal / Help yourself at any time.” New flavors enter the mix, as well — a result, perhaps, of Hütz’s recent relocation to Brazil; in “Sun Is on My Side,” one of the album’s most impressive cuts, he layers his rugged vocals over a delicate acoustic-guitar figure that shares something with the work of João Gilberto.

--Mikael Wood

Gogol Bordello
“Trans-Continental Hustle”
(American Recordings)
Three and a half stars (Out of four)

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