The music of Akron, Ohio-based singer/songwriter Joe Garcia, a.k.a. Hoseff, has been described as everything from “gypsy punk” to “gypsy blues-rock.” And, to be sure, Hoseff’s debut album, Modern Gypsies, has been influenced by both punk and the blues. But the plot is even thicker than that. Perhaps the best way to describe this impressive debut is “alternative rock with a strong East European gypsy influence as well as elements of goth-rock, blues, folk and punk.” And even though the lyrics are mostly in English (apart from a spoken introduction in Spanish on “First Desire”), there are definite parallels between Hoseff’s work and much of the gypsy-influenced alternative rock that has come from Eastern Europe in the post-communist era.
After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, alternative rock became a lot less underground in that part of the world. An abundance of artists in Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Russia and Bulgaria favored an “east meets west” hybrid, combining alternative rock with elements of traditional East European gypsy music. Many of those alterna-rockers weren’t actual gypsies, but they were greatly influenced by Eastern Europe’s gypsy music. And even though Hoseff is from the United States, he definitely has a similar type of sound. Hoseff isn’t singing in Romanian, Hungarian or Bulgarian on “Just My Dream,” “Waitin’ on You,” “In My Arms Tonight” or the title song, but melodically and harmonically, there is no overlooking the strong East European influence that he brings to those songs.
Much of Eastern Europe’s gypsy music is known for having a brooding, moody, haunting type of sound, which is also the way that goth-rock has often been described. And Hoseff successfully finds the parallels between Eastern European gypsy folk and goth-rock on melancholy offerings such as “Make It Through the Night,” “Sad Song” and “Yesterday’s News.” Modern Gypsies is not goth-rock in the strict sense, yet it does have a strong goth influence and often reminds listeners of the way that both goth-rock and East European gypsy folk love to brood.
Another thing that Hoseff is quite good at doing is finding the things that North American roots music has in common with the roots music of Eastern Europe. “This Is Why We Live” brings to mind Neil Young’s folk-rock, but it also has the East European gypsy element. “Shades of Grey,” meanwhile, includes some bluesy slide guitar and underscores Hoseff’s appreciation of the blues; it isn’t 12-bar blues in the strict sense, but it does have a major blues influence.
The blues, of course, are known for expressing a lot of darker emotions, but they’re also known for having a lot of gallows humor; the blues, like country, have a way of laughing at life’s ups and downs. Hoseff, however, doesn’t really zero in on the blues’ humorous aspects; he is dark without being dark-humored. And Modern Gypsies isn’t big on irony. Hoseff maintains a deep, serious tone throughout the album.
“The Devil I Know,” another track with a strong blues influence, is about a woman who stays in a bad relationship because she believes that nothing better is likely to come along. In other words, she feels that romantically, the devil she knows is better than the devil she doesn’t know. Her attitude is painfully fatalistic, and “The Devil I Know” fits in perfectly with the brooding outlook that Hoseff is going for on Modern Gypsies.
No one will accuse Modern Gypsies of being an exercise in lighthearted escapism; Hoseff doesn’t hesitate to get in touch with his darker thoughts on 2012 release. But then, art certainly doesn’t have to be happy and cheerful to be engaging and this album is consistently engaging. Hoseff’s “east meets west” aesthetic yields memorable results on Modern Gypsies.
Review by Alex Henderson (Spin Magazine)
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)