After settling on the current format, Gogol Bordello released the revolutionary Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike (2005) followed by the brilliant Super Taranta! (2007), both 5 star records with the former introducing a new raw hybrid sound, grounded in the vibe of a raucous Gypsy /Eastern European Wedding but drawing influence from a wide variety of musical sources, with the latter record a slightly more refined version of the same formula. By the release of Super Taranta!, Gogol Bordello had arguably ascended to the throne of "Heavy Weight champions of the World" ...the highest energy, most compelling live show on the planet. After having seen 15 or so concerts in the aftermath of these releases, I remember the scene vividly of Gogol Bordello tearing the roof off of Higher Ground in Burlington, Vermont in August 2009 (the former home of frontman Eugene Hutz) the show ending with percussionist Elizabeth Sun crowd surfing on top of her bass drum and Hutz climbing aboard while hanging from the rafters ...it was as if the feedback loop between musicians and audience, and resulting energy, had red-lined ..and one had to wonder if it were possible for the band to sustain this level of intensity.
Enter legendary producer Rick Rubin ...an important creative force in the rock and roll influenced hip-hop that launched Run-DMC and The Beastie Boys and of the Red Hot Chili Pepper's "Blood Sugar Sex Magic" where the expanded songwriting and vocal scope of Anthony Kiedis combined with the integration of the melodic genius of guitarist John Frusciante produced an ingenious record, for which he almost certainly should derive significant credit. Simply put, this man has been a big, active part of some great music.
However, in the case of Trans-Continental Hustle (and the ensuing live performances of the band) the addition of Rubin may be viewed, in some way, as a negative. While Gogol Bordello owes its success to the powerful, collective musical vibe of the band members, Rubin's influence seems to have placed greater emphasis on the dutiful execution of some carefully constructed songs ... and the result is a collection where, in many cases, the intensity of the raw energy, peak output and the optimum performance of the players has been compromised. While it has its high points, the magic appears only sporadically on this record. The best indication of this is recent live performances, where shows (formerly two solid hours of mindful euphoria..comprised of roughly 90% material from the GP:UWS and ST! records) have blocks of lower energy with the crowd fidgeting, sometimes paying only fleeting attention to the performance.
So, in summary, this record is worth buying, because Gogol Bordello is one of the best acts in the world, and everything that they do has merit, but in this case Rubin over-tinkered with something that wasn't broken and the result is a small step down from previous efforts. If you want to get in touch with this band, explore first the records mentioned above. While I consider Trans Continental Hustle (and the music of Gogol Bordello) to be a wonderful gift, I would certainly welcome a return to the formula which best represents their strengths.