Sunday, December 30, 2007

HASC 20 - Review

Here are my thoughts on Hasc's 20 album. It's much more difficult to review a concert than to write about a regular album - HASC is a live concert and, as such, there are always mistakes and tuning issues here and there, so I can't be very critical. But I do have some things to say.

This concert starts with a Dveykus-style instrumental overture. I think Dveykus always has an overture so people can play it in dinners and other occasions when you need something in the background, but if I would be in a concert I would be bored to hear this intro. But that's just me, I'm sure some of you liked it.

Shalsheles Junior was without any doubt the sensation in HASC 20. Unlike MBC or YBC, Shalsheles Junior is a group of just four kids, like the original Shalsheles. That's much more appealing for a concert, because you can see who's singing and who's doing harmony - I like that. In the HASC 18 there was YBC and although they did well, I was much more impressed with the musical talent of these four kids - they sing, they do great harmonies and they even play instruments. It's extremely hard to sing Modeh Ani live - the harmonies are complex and there are three parts to this song - but they nailed it. I still remember saying to a friend I wasn't planning to buy SJ, because I was tired of kids choirs. But I can't get tired of SJ. They do better harmonies than many leading JM singers out there - listen to 4:16 and you will surely agree. Hisoreri is a good song but it's not very energetic, so it gets stale towards the end.

Vezakeini was easily the hit of the year to me. Boruch Levine usually composes remarkable slow songs to Yehuda! (i.e. Haleluka) and Dveykus (i.e. Yehi Shalom), but this time he did everything by himself. He no-doubt deserved to be in this concert.

After that we have the "wild-card" - Dedi, which made me happy and sad at the same time. I love Dedi's energy and stage performance, but to hear him in this HASC makes me remember the good old times when he was THE man in JM. In this concert I see a Dedi that was left behind in time and that is fading away - that makes me sad. Without any hits in the past many years, Dedi had no choice but to sing oldies and Carlebach's Neshomole Niggun. I really hope he comes out with something new soon, he's has got the talent (perhaps partnering with Yossi Green again at last?).

Gabay and specially "Lipa's Diet Song" further took away the concerts' energetic start.

But then came Ohad, the sensation. I don't know why he sang Shalom - one of his weakest songs - but he proved to be a master of the languages in the International Medley, singing even Arabic.

The best part of this night was surely the Fried/ Helfgot duet. That was probably A. Fried's biggest dream - we all know he has a thing for Chazzanut. And Helfgot is not a typical Chazzan, he's more "pop". This combination was perfect, and there are some unforgettable moments of the two, like Helfgot’s “messianic” V’hu Rachum and Fried truly magnificent falsetto in 5:48 (you can’t miss this one). It was comic to hear Fried melodically ask, “Who will sponsor (the seudas hamashiach)? I think it will be J & I” and after that Helfgot sings, “And I also sing like thaaat”. Ha!

I think Sameach arranged a great line-up for this concert, probably the best of the past five years or so. In my opinion, this album is better than HASC 18 and United We Stand, two other HASC albums I own.

Well done!

The Inside Man - Post from Sruly's Blog

Sruly, from Sameach, has a very interesting post on the inner workings of the JM industry. It's worth reading it - I specially liked this:

"If you want the album to sound truly magnificent you have to spend real money. I know technology has come a long way and it’s easy to do it in your friend’s basement. But to make a good album you need all the right ingredients. Sometimes you have to shop at a few different stores to get everything you need to prepare a proper gourmet meal."


Thanks JBlogmeister

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yemenite Music and Pronunciation

I saw this video (UPDATE: it was taken down from youtube for some reason, but the guy has another great one here) and I was very impressed. Numerous times I've heard about the distinctive "havara" of the Yemenite Jews but this is the first time I hear and understand what's being sung.

We have all heard that the Yemenite pronunciation is probably the most correct and precise from all Jewish sects. Evidently, the Ashkenazim have a very strong European flavor to their (our) liturgy and it's quite amusing to hear such a different reading.

One thing we got it right, it seems, - the "Kometz" pronunced as "shOlom", opposed to the Sephardi/Mizrachi version "shAlom".

I was once in Amsterdam and there's also a very unique havara there, quite similar to the German Jew's (Yekis) pronunciation. What stroke me in particular was the way the Baal Koreh pronounced Shevi'i (i.e."the seventh day") - he said SheviNi.

In the US (and UK), the Jews have also been heavily influenced by the English accent. So if the European havara was quite far from the original, so much more the English one. And so on.

When we "import" other music styles into Jewish Music, for instance, I think we are contributing with this phenomena and pushing our music further and further away from what it was. Possibly, that's a process we can't stop and it might just be part of life. But I surely hope my children will be listening and enjoying the same Nusach I sing every day.

But what's most important to keep in mind, and that's the reason I'm posting this, is to remember that there's no single truth when it comes to Havara. All of the different pronunciations are valid and should be carefully preserved.



You can listen to another Yemenite mizmor here.

PS: I once heard that one Ashkenazi Rishon hired a private tutor to learn the Sephardi havara after hearing that their Havara was more authentic. Anyone else heard this? Anyone knows the name of this Rabbi?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Concert

Someone emailed me this concert ad:

"What’s a Jew to do on Xmas Eve?

If they’re into great Jewish bands, they come to midtown.

B.B. King’s Blues Club
243 West 42nd Street
New York, NY

(212) 917-4144

December 24th, 2007
Doors open at 5:00 p.m.
7:00 – Yuda Piamenta and Rock of David
8:00 – Six13
9:00 – Zeke Decker and the Homewreckers
10:00 – Heedoosh
11:00 – Blue Fringe


That’s five incredible acts, one legendary venue.

Check out the newest in a long line of Piamentas to carry on the family tradition of fantastic, spirited Jewish music. Curious to see if Six13 can pull off the amazing sounds of their album live, without a single musical instrument, as they claim? They can. Zeke Decker, an outgrowth of Schechter High School in New Jersey, is shrouded in mystery. Unique and original, Heedoosh is moving to Israel and this will be their FINAL U.S. PERFORMANCE. Dov Rosenblatt and Blue Fringe have become an institution in Jewish rock in just a short time, and never disappoints.

Tickets are $25 at the door, and you can reserve yours online for $20 (that’s a 20% discount):
http://www.jewishtickets.com/Pages/EventDetails1.aspx?EventId=305

See you Monday night!"

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Guest Post: Joel's Review of Lapidot's Album

Joel, a loyal reader of this blog, reviews Y. Lapidot's latest album in this post. Yishai will ii"H sing in my wedding, which will take place soon, so I am obviously a fan of his music. I tend to prefer his fast songs, but he has many solid slow hits such as Pio Poscho and Bati. I didn't have a chance to hear this new album - I will try to post a review of my own in the near future. If anyone else wants to guest post, please let me know. This is a democratic blog, anyone can be on the spotlight. Here is Joel's review:

Lapidot recently released a solid debut solo effort "Vaani Hamanginah Shelachem", distributed by Gal Paz, which received very little publicity on this side of the Atlantic. Since it was not distributed by Sameach or Aderet it wasn't on any podcast or blog, and went by largely unnoticed. Thats why I'm attempting to write a review.
Most people know Yishai Lapidot from his boy band/rock group Oif Simchas, but he is also a talented composer. Two of his huge hits are Dedi's "Hu Yigal" and Avraham Fried's Modeh Ani. Another one of his credits is the creator and producer of the "Kinderlach".

The mood of the new album is a bit softer than his previous Oif Simchas efforts, but it has a few flashbacks as well. The musical styles on this album are diverse and eclectic ranging from dance techno to yeshivish freilach to power ballads to even rap.

He starts of the album with the title track "Vaani Hamanginah Shelachem", a mid tempo synth-pop song arranged by his long time collaborater Ron Tichon. Its a nice mellow uplifting start to the album. The second song Vlifamim, was the first single of the album released late this past summer. It has a standout saxaphone solo half way through the song. It is the first of a few steady power ballads on the disc. The third song "Yeled Tov Yerushalayim" is the first Oif Simchas dance style track, and perhaps the liveliest on the album. It has a middle eastern sephardi feel to it and is reminiscent to "Haalo Yeled" from his third OS release. Yeled Tov is a great dance number that was very catchy and has great hooks.

The next song is the ballad "Vesigar beyaitzer" has Dudi Kalish on the background vocals. It is a relatively typical ballad with no real memorable parts. The next track "Achshav Ze Tov" is a swing bluesy number with a great drum intro from Avi Avidani. I just didn't like this song very much. I'm just not very interested in this style.

Lapidot's next song, another arranged by Ron Tichon, is a remake of the classic "Bilvavi". It has a heavy synth beat to it. Yishai has proved before that he can take an old song and remix it well like he did to "Am Yisrael Chai" on the third OS album. This is, like before, a great cover.
Next is "Aleh Katan" which was previously released by Avraham Fried as a single. I enjoyed it with Avraham Fried and I like Yishai's version which is similar just with a different arrangement. It is a song of hope during the despair of the recent intifada that has become an anthem, and huge hit in Israel. It still resonates as the Magen David Adom theme song from a concert I was at this past summer.

The next song is my favorite on the album. "Shir Hachasidim" is exactly what it sounds like, an enthusiastic ode to every sect of chassidus or atleast every sect Lapidot can think of. I was singing along with it instantly like I was when I heard Lenny's "We got a Strong Desire". Lets just hope they don't ban it.

Next is another ballad "Boi Veshalom" which is saved by a guest appearance by the Kinderlach turning a plain chuppah number into a very good song. Next is the first real techno song album "Rack Itcha". It sounds a bit like "Na Na Na Hey hey hey goodbye" that Nancy Faust made popular back in the 1970's with the Chicago White Sox.

After the Techno club song comes a huge change of pace with "Vein bi Hakoach" a mellon collie ballad about someone who has lost all hope seemingly on his/her deathbed. I don't really understand the meaning of this song. Like Josh Baskin, I dont get it. The next song "Al Yedei Nigunim" is one of two songs on this album not composed by Lapidot, but by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg. This is the most yeshivish song on the album that can easily fit in to any wedding first dance. It is a catchy song that you would see on any shiny shoe album.

Finally the last song "Ana Hashem" is an ambitious rap number which is actually one of the more catchy songs on the album. The only problem I have with it is it's mostly in French. The chorus is really great I can see myself waving a lighter during it at a live show. The song is highlighted by Avi Singolda on guitar and Avi Avidani on the drums.

-> In conclusion I think this album was a great listen, and very entertaining. The arrangements were done by Ron Tichon, Ken Burgess, Amiran Dvir and Yishai which contributed to his signature sound. If you like Oif Simchas like me, you will love this album as well. Yishai continues to put out quality material. Most of the fare on this album is similar to what we've heard before. Yishai's solo perormance sounds like a more fine tuned evolved version of Oif Simchas. His music seems to have grown up a little without letting down his OS fans.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Spinner's You and I Review

You and I is Spinner's debut album. Firstly, the cover art is one of the nicest I've seen in the past years - it reminds me of Lev Tahor's Watch Over Me cover art, which as also nice. The production is first-class – with a list of great musicians that include Mike Boxer, Yaron Gershovski, Leib Yaakov Rigler (who arranges Lev Tahor's albums), the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and.... Steve Bill. I never heard of Steve Bill in JM and I look forward to hear his music. Let's go to the review:

Tzur is great opening song. I really like the low part and high part is not bad. The song has good energy and Spinner does a good job singing it. In the background there's a lot going on - a full horn section and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra - and I specially liked the horns responding to Spinner in 1:50. Although I really enjoyed Spinner improvisation in 3:40 I thought the ending of the song was too usual - it could've ended just after Spinner in 3:45. ****

Acheinu, originally featured in Six13's Encore, is smooth and well done. Mike Boxer did a terrific job in the vocal arrangements and he carries the song further and further with his well-tuned and "consistent" choir. Six13's arrangement concept was borrowed by the string section in 2:33. The ending is interesting - in 5:33 Spinner swings to a major key very skillfully and the choir closes the song softly. ****

The choir in Mi Sheshiken was not arranged by M. Boxer and this has a very negative impact in this song. Spinner is not an experienced soloist and he needs a good choir to assist and respond to him, and since the choir here was arranged by Spinner himself, this song doesn't flows well. Although I liked the cool jazz digression in 3:20, this is an average song. ***

The featured English song, You and I is way too long - almost 7:00. A song like this shouldn’t go over 5 minutes. Because the song is so long, it's a huge challenge to keep this song interesting – you would need a singer who’s great at improvising, but Spinner is not great at it yet - he's not a seasoned soloist. I don't understand why he chose this song to be the album's main song; in my opinion, this song fails to fly. *

Like the first song, L'maan is a good fast song and unlike Mi Sheshiken Spinner comes out well in the vocal arrangements. Avi Singolda has some time to show off his skills in the guitar and Spinner carries the song well. ****

Mike Boxer is back in Lefonai and you can notice him right away, as his choir does the (great) opening of this song. This song is unique, different than what we are used to hear in JM, but it's great and very original. ****

Peeha is my favorite song in this album. The arrangement is nice, the harmonies are very good and Spinner excelled in this song. This song has three parts, but I found the last one to be a bit forgettable - it wouldn't be easy to sing it in a Chupa, for instance. Still, everything falls into place in this song. I love the flat note sung by Spinner in 2:30 and the choir right after that - incredible! *****

The arrangement in Modeh is very different - it starts with the sound of the sea and then with a piece that reminds me of Disney's Under the Sea. There's a classic mistake in this song - the comma in this passage is after "Behemlo", not before it. However, Spinner composed this song considering that the comma is before "Behemlo", so he sings "Behemlo Rabo Emunosecho", which is very inaccurate. This is a very common mistake and it shows that the composer paid little attention to the actual words of this song. Besides this issue, it's a decent song. ***

Once again, we have a very unique arrangement in Shalom Aleichem. This is at best an average song, but both the arrangement and the choir keep this song moving. I liked when the choir sang "Shalala" in 1:47 - it reminds me of Yishai Lapidot's Pio Poscho, where the choir does the same shtick. **

The arrangement in Neshomo is contemporary and pleasant to hear. This song is similar to Ari Goldwag's compositions (similar style) and it's really nice. ****

Oseh is another of these middle-eastern songs that aren't really middle-eastern. You do have the typical instruments, the choir and some singing that resembles a middle-eastern song - but the composition itself is not really middle-eastern. With that said, this a fun song to hear - Spinner does a great shtick at 4:10 and right after that the choir guys do some arabic screaming for us. Fun. ****

I don't have much to say about Avraham Yagel. I think this song should have been arranged as a techno song, a la Ron Tichon. We can hear Yaron Gershovsky's great piano shticks, especially in 2:02, and the song is quite good. ***

-> Conclusion
: We must keep in mind that this is Spinner's debut. He's not the best soloist yet but he has a good voice and a potential to become a top singer. With some more voice coaching and experience he will improve a lot - the same happened to Yehuda!, another talented musician who composes (and arranges) his own songs, after his debut in the mid 90's.

Steve Bill did a great job in the arrangements, bringing us a full array of different musical styles and instruments. But to me, the star in the musical background was Mike Boxer, of whom I became a fan after Six13's two albums. He added flavor to this project and his music is always original, creative and interesting - I hope he continues to participate in mainstream JM projects like this one. It’s a great album.


Other three fellow JM bloggers posted about this album - Aryeh, Chaim Rubin and JBlogmeister.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

HDTV Ad in Israel

Following countless bans in the past years (like this one and this one), this ad came out in Israel just now. Only Jews could make such great fun of other Jews.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Alternative Jewish Music

We have witnessed an incredible boom in the alternative Jewish music segment in the past decade and today there are dozens of “new” genres within JM. Until the 90’s, a few yeshivish singers dominated JM and there wasn’t much action in the alternative genres. Today there’s JM for all tastes – rock (example: Blue Fringe), acapella (Six13), reggae (Matisyahu), mizrachi (Chaim Israel), techno and many more.

I think this phenomenon is great, since we can now listen to music that is more contemporary and original, rather than just listening to the same old sound.

But I wonder where you draw the line between what is acceptable as JM and what’s not. Someone emailed me a video clip of JewDa, a hip-hop singer that made teshuva through Chabad not long ago. He was a hip-hop aficionado since his teen’s and although he made teshuva he still wanted to continue his path as a hip-hop singer. The result can be seen in the clip, and I must say I was open-eyed after I saw the video. He looks exactly like a rapper, with a Miami Heat shirt, rapper cap and dancers jumping all-over the screen. I couldn’t’ understand a word of what he said. So I wonder – is this Jewish Music?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a close-minded JM fan who only listens to MBD and Shwekey. I like Matisyahu and many other “alternative” singers like Aron Razel and Chaim David. I like good music, even if it’s not what I’m used to hear. But JewDa for some reason sounded over the fence to me.

Which brings me to my next question, what is the definition of Jewish Music? How can you determine if a song is part of Jewish Music umbrella?

I don’t really now the answer, but I just feel that there’s a limit of how far can a singer go when singing a Jewish song. And JewDa seems to be just past it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mike Boxer's email

I made three corrections in the Encore review following an email from Mike Boxer.

The inaccuracies: I thought he was the vocalist in "Son" - it was Alan Zeitling; I thought he composed Gadlu - it's an Beat'achon oldie; and I thought the soloist's voice in "Lo Issa" was digitally altered - it was real (Unbelievable!).

One of the problems of buying music in iTunes is that I can't see the album cover and know who sings and composes the songs..

Monday, November 12, 2007

Six13's Encore

I really enjoyed Six13’s first album, featuring some great songs like Lecha Dodi and Yigdal. So without thinking twice, I went ahead and bought Encore in iTunes for U$9.99, relatively cheap. We should start a petition for more JM in iTunes, to the chagrin of Sameach and Aderet.

Al Hanissim is not my cup-of-tea. Musically speaking, the arrangement and vocal percussion are great but I don’t enjoy this song very much most probably because of the lyrics. I don’t really feel they fit well in this song, so I’m not very excited about this one. **

Six13’s choice of songs for the MBC Mix was perfect – Yaale, Adon Olam and We Need You -, MBC’s best songs ever. Throughout the song the vocal arrangements are creative and interesting – Mike Boxer jokingly throws in “What did you say?” in 2:48 and “We are not done/Yes we are/ Oh that’s right” at the very end. This reflects Six13’s laid back and informal approach to music and I didn’t think it was inappropriate. I specially loved the arrangement in 5:32. *****

The song Son starts like Yigdal started in Six13’s album, with the march percussion theme. Like Al Hanissim, I think musically the song is great but it’s not a style I love. When Alan Zeitlin sings a song like this one, in English, it becomes clear to me that he’s not a great soloist. Otherwise, the song is well built and quite energetic. ***

Gadlu is by far the weirdest and original song in the album. I think Boxer did an outstanding job as the vocalist – I can’t see anyone else singing this song decently and with the twists he does. In 2:42 he does one of those interesting shticks (I must say it feels weird to speak Yeshivish when talking about Six 13). The closing of the song is exceptional – great chord used there. Musically, the song is nearly perfect. And I like the originality (I’m assuming Mike Boxer composed it)[He didn't; it's an oldie from Beat'achon, so I instead of five stars I give four]. ****

Many in JM try to throw in a middle-eastern song in their albums, but few have nailed it like Six13’s Dror Yikra. Without any instruments, just with clever vocal arrangements, Six13 found a way to convey a truly middle-eastern feel in this song. I loved the harmony in 2:40, it’s a harmony I always try to do when I sing. *****

Acheinu is a slow song that sounds more like the JM music I’m used to hear. The soloist is good, the song keeps becoming interesting – first with the Lev Tahor-style harmony in 2:09 and then with some great improvisation until 2:32. Good stuff. ****

Shaalu is the second weirdest song in the album and in songs like this, Mike Boxer excels as a soloist. The song becomes even weirder after 3:10, when Boxer does some slow-tempo improvising that I didn’t particularly enjoy. ***

Kol Achai came out with a solid accapella-style Cracow Niggun not long ago that is quite similar to this one. Out of hundreds of Carlebach songs, I really don’t understand why Six13 choose this one. Why not choose another song and make something more original? The only thing that’s stands out in this song are the dissonant harmonies between 0:30 and 0:42, which are really outstanding. Other than that, Six13’s Cracow Niggun is nonsense to me. After singing Adir Hu, they did a cool shtick in 4:07, meshing the two songs – Cracow and Adir Hu – together. There’s no connection between these two songs, but it’s fun to hear them trying to fit them together. Because of Adir Hu, I give this song three stars and not less. ***

Lo Issa has only one-part, posing a challenge to any group trying to sing it for more than two or three minutes. Not much action in this song, except for the lowest tone I ever heard in a Jewish Music song – both in 1:44 and 3:15. I know it was digitally manipulated [Correction: it wasn't! It's unbelievable, but that's the guy's real voice], but still, that was quite cool. **

The last song of the album is the classic Lev Tahor, but there are many innovations in this song. The shtick here are the cool “bridges” between the two parts of the song, which modulates the song to another sister musical chord – see 1:14, 2:22 . I haven’t seen anyone doing this in JM as good as Six13 did here. In 1:24 you can hear a very exquisite low harmony that I loved. Thumbs up for originality. (I’m so used to a bad last song in JM albums, so this great last song was unexpected for me). *****

-> When I first heard this album, I thought it was too different, too weird. But I was wrong; it is different and it is weird, but it’s a delight to listen to Boxer’s music. In my view, after two consistent Six13 albums, he’s definitely in the forefront of JM today, not only in the acapella niche. His music is fresh, original and well thought. If you liked the first album, I’m sure you will love this one. If you only enjoy yeshivish and chassidish music, it will be hard to digest the modern shticks of this album. However, if you are more broad-minded and enjoy listening to something that is a bit different, Six13 will prove to be one of the year’s best albums.


PS: I made three corrections following an email from Mike Boxer. The mistakes: I thought he was the vocalist in "Son", I thought he composed Gadlu and I thought the soloist's voice in "Lo Issa" was digitally altered.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Soon: Six13

I'm again in a long trip but I will start working in Six13's album review soon. Stay tuned!

By the way, I'm posting this line, which can be found in the Music & Lyrics discussion thread:


"A good tune can take you far, and good harmony can take you further, but a song is not great until it is in harmony with its words as well", by C Yehuda.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Hashem Echod's Review

Shloime Dachs is back to the spotlight with Hashem Echod, his fifth album. Gideon Levine’s production is very good and some songs are actually not bad. After Ovinu, his previous album, I thought Dachs was gone. But the album’s theme song Shema Yisroel is outstanding, a great surprise. And the album has 12 songs, an all-time record for Dachs, in addition to the video.

Tomid, composed by Lapidot, is not good enough for an opening song. The low part is actually good but the high part is repetitive. Laufer’s arrangement is too typical, adding very little to the song. I believe Ron Tichon would’ve done a much better job arranging this opening song, perhaps in a techno style. Everything is too predictable, too familiar and too boring. Dachs doesn’t seem to be very good at choosing opening songs – in his last album Ovinu he chose Ein Lonu, a very plain song. The high part of this song reminds me of Dedi’s Tein Li Brocho V’hatzlocho, composed by Reuven Banet. **

Shema Yisroel is very interesting. The opening is outstanding – both the choir and the arrangement are very well made and manage to set the appropriate tone for this emotional song. The sound of the train wagons transports us to the 1940’s and the words – Shema Yisroel – are perfectly fit for this song dedicated to a few holocaust survivors. I never heard anything about Elimelech Blumstein, the composer, but he hit a home run here. Dachs also did a good job singing it. This song should’ve been the first song of the album. *****

The big attraction of Yigdal is Chaim Yisrael, who’s a great soloist. He does an interesting intro and sings the remainder of the song with Dachs. Moshe Laufer does everything right in the arrangement until he switches to rock in 2:00, in the last part of the song. Additionally, Gideon Levine sings the choir in Boruch (i.e. Ashkenazi-style). Those two things took away the Mizrachi feel of this song, in my opinion. **

Torah is a three-part song that starts off well (sounds like Shalsheles Junior to me) but it doesn’t builds up. It’s just another average song, that’s has nothing bad, but nothing good as well. ***

Yitzi Waldner is famous for his slow songs, which include Shwekey’s Mi Adir, Meheiro and many more. Keili is a fast song, but Waldner did a great job here as well. He plays well with the lyrics in the second part of the song (check the lyrics in the album jacket and you will understand what I mean) and the song is not overly long – 4 minutes. It the right style of fast song for Dachs’ voice. ****

Mizmor Shir is a typical Bald song – simple lyrics, simple tune and the song switches from Hebrew to English (and Yiddish). Dachs already has a Mizmor Shir in his curriculum – in the album Rozo de’Shabbos. That one is far far superior than this one. **

Yehuda Ben Teimo’s first part is very catchy and overall is a quite good song. There’s nothing new in the arrangement - it’s just the usual sound we hear too often - so the song gets too repetitive. I didn’t like the ending. ***

Yo Ainstark is the composer of the famous Tov Lehodot and usually composes songs for his Shalheves Boys Choir, but he didn’t meet my expectations for this song. The Dove is another plain English like the ones we have become so used to – not catchy, overly long and very boring. And the choir is also too plain. Frankly, I’m tired of these songs in JM. *

Na Na Na starts exactly like Dedi’s Sameach (click here to listen the comparison). The high part is not geshmack. **

Ranenu starts somewhat like Shwekey’s Ranenu. The high part is interesting and the choir here is much better, but I don’t feel like there’s a connection between the tune and the lyrics. It’s a song without a soul. **

Mi Bon is a great Chupa song, but a bit forgettable. In 5:19 and 5:40 Dachs did a very poor job in the vocals – inexcusable. ***

I loved the first part of Yehei but the high part is almost non-existant. **

-> Shloime Dachs sings the same songs for almost 15 years. This album would have been a hit in the 90’s but, hey, we are in 2007. His music hasn’t improved much over the years, nor his voice or harmonies but I can’t say he is a bad vocalist. Although Dachs doesn’t have the best of voices, he excels when singing the right songs for his voice. I guess that’s why he keeps singing the same thing over and over. But many guys out there are musically ahead of him – Avraham Fried , Ohad, Michoel Pruzansky, Dovid Gabay etc… So today, Dachs is not one of the main players in JM anymore. He’s just one of the good old guys still hanging out there.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pruzbul Review

Here it is Pruzbul’s review, sorry for taking such a long time to write it. To avoid bias, I haven’t read anyone else’s review.

The production is by Yitzi Bald, who also played a large role in Dovid Gabay's album not long ago. Like in Gabay’s album, where he composed a song called LeGabay, Bald repeats the shtick with Pruzbul, in a reference to Pruzanski. Ok…
I don’t like Bald’s choice of lyrics. In Taseh, Shteig and Pruzbul the lyrics are very simple and somewhat vague. The same happened in Gabay’s LeGabay (“When he does work of the day he is quick”)– vague lyrics. While I welcome his quest for new lyrics, I think either the composers should find lyrics that actually say something (like Yossi Green does) or they should compose the lyrics themselves. “Do Mitzva, get Olam Haba” is not good enough. Anyways..:

In Taseh, the choir is Mo Kiss times 20 (Yossi Green style) but I prefer the "fuller" sound of real choirs. Mo Kiss does a good job responding to Pruzanski but I thought he overdid it a bit. When the song started to get cool with Mo Kiss' choir shtick in 3:25, a guy speaking Yiddish comes in. I don't like it. But it seems to be a trend - Shloime Gertner did the same in the first song of his album Nisim. I felt the arrangement is not smooth throughout the song; the intro sounds like my own arrangements I make in GarageBand, which is not much of a compliment. However, Pruz does a outstanding job, especially when he sings the low part in a higher octave - breathtaking! ***

What didn't work for Bald (the arranger) in Taseh, worked in the next song Shteig. The arrangement builds up and the song keeps getting momentum. The best part is on 2:40, in Mo Kiss' choir. Good song, great arrangement and superb singing by Pruz. Not bad! ****

In You're Watching Me, we can finally hear Pruz alone, alongside with the piano. The arrangement is simple, but very fitting for this song. Pruzanski carries the song very well, and throws in a beautiful falsetto in 2:06 and great harmonies towards the end of the song, starting in 6:23. The song is good, but not a blockbuster. ****

The album theme song is Pruzbul. I must admit I was expecting lyrics a la Yossi Green, that is, something like the whole Pruzbul nusach or a special pshat about the importance of Pruzbul from an obscure Hakdama. That's not the case here - the lyrics are "Help to fix the world. Hillel did it with Pruzbul". Aside from this lyrics issue, the music is energetic and catchy. Pruzanski does a great job improvising at 3:15. ****

It's easy to realize that Chavivin is not composed by Bald. It's a typical Yitzy Waldner song, with a pop feel. Throughout the song Mo Kiss did a great job with the soft background harmonies. At the end of the song, you can hear the cutest baby laugh ever. Very nice song. ****

Brocha is not in the same level as the previous songs, but it's decent. ***

Ashira is not from one Yossi Green's best compositions, but thumbs up for Pruzanski for making this average song sound good. Perhaps is time for Yossi Green to produce Pruzanski's next album - in his first album Pruz did a fantastic job singing Green's "Da" and he did it again here. Come on Yossi! ****

Hu is a creative song composed by Bald. I don't have much else to write about it. ***

Since Shwekey just came out with his Yizkereim (which, by the way, was taken from Coby), I didn't get too excited about this one. But when Pruz sings the English lyrics the song gets more interesting. ***

V'lo is a three-part that doesn't really flies. The song is weird, the arrangement is confusing and the ending is very poor. Even Pruzanski couldn't make this sound at least decent. *

→ Overall, this album’s production wasn’t as good as the first one – Ashrecho, a state-of-the-art album produced by Yochi Briskman and directed by Eli Laufer. Pruzbul is more economical, but it’s not a flick. Pruzanski is one of the best soloists out there and has the skill to make almost any song sound great, with great intensity, harmonies and improvisation skills. MoKiss is a great choir arranger - this is the first time I heard his work. I think everyone in this album tried very hard to produce good music with the resources they had at hand. Bald's songs are simple for the most part, but catchy and well sung. Worth my money.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Update

I'm back from a long trip to Europe and will now be able to spend more time in this blog.

Michoel Pruzanski just released a new album that bears a very unique name - Pruzbul. This follows Dovid Gabay's trend of choosing album titles that sounds like the singer's name, in his case LeGabay.

I REALLY look forward for this album. I am a huge fan of Pruzanski and I think he has been the best voice to come out in the last years, following his excellent debut album Ashrecho. If you don't have Ashrecho, buy it. For some reason it never became very popular, but many of the songs in his first album are all-time classics to me.

Pruz has a very energetic, all-range voice that was very well coached. He's always on tune and tries new shticks in almost every song, keeping his songs always interesting. I have been telling my friends for a long time that I plan to get Pruzanki for my wedding.

I heard MostlyMusic's Promo song of Pruzbul and it sounds great and very energetic. Yitzy Bald seems to be the main composer, but there are songs by Yossi Green and Waldner.

I will post a review asap. I also plan to review Shloime Dachs' album soon. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Music and Lyrics

Music is one of the most powerful ways of expressing a person’s feelings and ideas, and for centuries it has played a very important role in Jewish life. From the Shtetl’s folk wedding songs to the niggunim of the Hasidim, virtually all Jews share a great passion and admiration for tunes that inspire their lives.

Both the lyrics and the tune are the most important facets of an inspiring song, and they can convey to the listeners joy, excitement, insight or even sadness, depending on the lyrics and tune used by the composer.

Everyone agrees that Shlomo Carlebach had a special skill to choose the appropriate tunes for the lyrics he sang, and the vast majority of his songs seem to be in perfect harmony with the words. That might explain why his songs are still so popular even after his passing.

Today, the biggest trend in JM is borrowing non-Jewish songs and singing them with lyrics from Tehilim, Tefila or whatever. Some singers copy the whole song (see Life-of-Rubin's list here), some composers simply use the beats and style that are typically used by techno or pop singers and so on. I once saw a teshuva from Rav Ovadia Yosef stating that it’s actually a good thing to transform these tunes into Jewish music because by doing that, the singer brings something that was used for the Sitra Achra (“Dark Side”) and elevates its use to Hashem.

But even though it might be ok to bring “alien” music into JM, we must keep in mind that these songs were composed for different lyrics and by definition they have nothing to do with the Tehilim or Tefila lyrics. In other words, many JM songs we are listening today has no “soul” and has little or nothing to do with the lyrics. The tunes might be good and catchy, but it’s hard to enjoy music that has no meaning to it. That’s why I can’t hear The Chevra anymore, for example. They sing techno and pop-style songs but even though the music is modern and the arrangements are good, I feel like there’s nothing to the songs. But the same holds true for many other composers today. For instance, Yossi Green’s thing today seems to be techno songs – like “Gedoilo Shiro” in Ohad2 and “Im Ain Ani Li” in Gertner’s album. I must admit that I like these songs but in the other hand, I feel that there’s no connection between the lyrics and the melody. The same thing happens when I hear Blue Fringe or AKAPella. Not to mention Variations (remember?).

I believe that the singers and composers should focus more in producing original music that is connected to the lyrics. If they keep focusing in finding the most catchy goish tunes and arrangements, we will be flooded with Jewish songs that are nothing more than copycats of non-Jewish music, with no originality or meaning to the songs. That’s why I like Shalsheles so much. And Chaim David, Chaim Yisrael, A. Fried, Abie Rotemberg and even Razel. These guys are busy singing real music, with real lyrics. Kein Irbu.

For the discussion thread, please mention Jewish songs that you think that have nothing to do with its lyrics. I came up with another one: this very very old-school Jewish tune, "ציון הלא תישאלי לשלום אסיריך" a very joyful song from... the Kinos of Tisha Beav.

PS: Although I brought a negative example from two of YG’s compositions, these are exceptions, and I think the vast majority of his music is very real and meaningful.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Baal Haturim on Music

Not being allowed to listen to music until Tisha B'av makes us realize how much "addicted" to music we are and how much we enjoy it.

The Baal Haturim on Parshas Matot comments that the word "LeAnot" appears twice in the Tanach; once in this passage (that speaks of cases in which the wife has vowed and the husband has the power to cancel the vow) and once more in Tehilim "(Lamnatzeach) al Machalat LeAnot", where it refers to a musical instrument. This indicates that if a woman vowed not to listen to musical instruments, her husband can defer her vow, for her vow is considered to be a vow that causes personal affliction to her (The husband may only cancel vows that affect their relationship or a vow that inflicts personal affliction to his wife).

May the days of Eternal Joy come fast and we will all rejoice with Mashiach, dancing with the most beautiful music of all times.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

My Deal With Joel

In the YG post thread yesterday:


Joel: "(...) Perhaps you should have a top ten list of your favorite 90's songs. It would encourage dialogue of differing opinions."

YK: "(...) I like your sugestion and I have an idea. Write a list of your all-time top ten favorites and briefly explain why you like each song. I will do the same and I'll post both lists so we can compare. Deal?"


So a deal is a deal, so here it is my list and Joel's list, in the next two posts.

I realize that they are long posts and I apologize for that, but I couldn't figure out a better way of doing this.

Feel free to disagree and criticize the selections - the intent was to expose two (totally different :) points of view.

YK's All-Time Favorite Jewish Music songs

1. Vezakeinu Lekabel Shabatot– Composer: Yossi Green. The older this song gets, the more I enjoy it. I’m not choosing this song particularly because of the arrangement or the singer; I just think this is a song that symbolizes the spirit of Shabbes. Oif Simchas released a new version of this song in their third album.

2. Hu Yigal – Singer: Dedi. Composer: Yishai Lapidot. In the mid-90’s Dedi skyrocketed in the industry and injected new life to JM. Hu Yigal is an energetic song, with a great background choir and it symbolizes the impact Dedi had in JM.

3. Hisnaari – Singer: Avrumi Flam. Composer: Yoel Kalek. This three-part song is a masterpiece composed by Yoel Kalek, the son of Yigal Kalek of the London Boys Choir. The arrangement by Lamm is simple but appropriate for this song and the Belgium-based choir, directed by Yoel, is awesome – I love their sound. This is surely Avrumie’s best song ever and he should have repeated this joint-venture with Yoel in all his albums.

4. Haleluka – Singer: Yehuda. Composer: Boruch Levine. Yehuda is a multi-talented musician who sings, produces, arranges and even composes most of his songs. His arrangements are original and refreshing and he has worked his way to become an extraordinary vocalist. This song is perfect from all sides – the song, the vocalist, the arrangement (Yehuda introduced in this song the Scottish pipe) and the choir.

5. Meheiro – Singer: Shwekey. Composer: Yitzy Waldner. Shwekey’s is not very smooth and I usually get tired of listening his songs after a while, even though they are good. But Meheiro is an exception. I think any other singer wouldn’t make this song sound as special as Shwekey did. It’s the right song for the right man.

6. Ekrah – Singer: Shalsheles. Composer: Y. Rosenthal. As you all know, I’m a big fan of Yitzhak Rosenthal’s music. I think this is his best song so far and I love to hear and sing this song. I once posted a sample of Kol Halayla’s Acapella version of this song that is simply marvelous and it convinced me this song is a classic (way better than AKAPella’s version).

7. Dido Bei – Singer: Avraham Fried. Composer: YG. The great lyrics, gathered by YG from a Gemara I believe, and the great choir complement Fried’s great vocals in this song. Another great classic composition of YG that cannot stay out of this list.

8. Ato Bonim – Singer: Yeedle. Composer: Hillel Palai. This was Palai’s debut in JM and he managed to create a new style of song – the “Ato Bonim”-type-of-songs. This song was an instant hit and most singers today include one song like that in their albums. Great lyrics and very skilled arrangement by Moshe Laufer.

9. Moshiach – Singer: MBD. Composer: Rosemblum?. No need for explanations. This song has been the symbol of JM for decades and, needless to say, it was of the biggest hit songs of the past decades. MBD sang this song again in his Kumzits album and it still sounds great.

10. Uvnei Otah. Singer: Carlebach. I couldn’t leave without including a Carlebach song. He deserves to have a separate list of all-time best songs but I have to choose one and I selected this one because it was one of his last and greatest compositions. Towards the end of his career, Reb Shlomo started to compose more intricate songs like this one, a three-part song that is not so easy to sing, unlike his other songs. Even so, everyone loves to sing this song anyways because it is a special piece and very energetic.

Disclaimer: My list is not in order of importance. It's just my top-ten favorites. I know I left many out and that not all of them are necessarily hits, but I made my selection based in the overall quality of the songs, taking to account the vocals, the song, the choir, the arrangement and my personal feeling for the song.

Joel's All Time Favorite Jewish Music songs

10. Oh Yerushalayim - Yehuda!
My favorite song from a very diverse artist. "Oh Yerushalayim your city is my destiny". Very meaningful lyrics and a very catchy tune.

9. Hinei Anochi- Tzlil V'zemer
A mid tempo beautiful classic from the choir always in MBC's shadow.

8. Hafachta- Diaspora
A great rock song from the first jewish rock band. Great guitar riffs. A true anthem about Jerusalem. Blue Fringe did a great cover, but not as good as the original.

7. Torah Hakdosha- Shloimy Daskal from the Siyum Hashas
Shloimy redid an MBD tune for the Siyum Hashas. With arguably the best voice in JM today he changed the lyrics for the event commerating the Holocaust and honoring all those who completed shas. Almost all the lyrics were changed, and it became an instant classic.

6.Sholom Aleichem- Regesh
An easy choice. This song is universal sung in most jewish homes at the friday night meal. Its a great nigun, and it has stood the test of time.

5. Torah Today- MBC
I could have chose many songs from Miami, but this is my favorite because it has a great sound and a good message.

4.Shema Yisroel- Shwekey
This combines the writing skills of Abie Rotenberg and the vocal skills of Shwekey. An unbelievable story and a heartfelt performance by Shwekey.

3.Im Eshkacheich- Shlomo Carlebach
Sung at almost every wedding its a true classic.

2. Chazak- Avraham Fried
His biggest hit! By far

1. Jerusalem Is Not For Sale- MBD
My favorite song from the king of JM, even if he steals some songs. The lyrics have their original meaning and a new meaning in 2007. Very catchy tune and very eloquent lyrics.

Obviously I left many great songs and artists out, but I had to pick my 10 favorites. I used songs from the most influential artists with a couple exceptions and didnt use one artist more than once.

----
As per Joel's request, here's his top ten English songs (not including the ones from his original top ten). feel free to comment.

Joe Dimaggios Card
- Journeys
On Giant Shoulders - Avraham Fried
City of Gold - Blue Fringe
Deaf Man in the Shteeble - Country Yossi
BS'D - MBC
Let my people Go -MBD
In Israel- Sam Glaser
Chazak Ameinu - Voices for Israel
Jerusalem is Calling - Diaspora
Together - Yeedle

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Lev Tahor & Pink Floyd?

Two weeks ago I was talking to my cousin and I suddenly heard a familiar tune playing in his computer. It was the intro of Lev Tahor's Gut Shabbos (click here to listen), from their latest album. Well, I was wrong. A few seconds later I found out that it Pink Floyd's High Hopes song (hear it!).

Comparing the two identical intro's I actually prefer Lev Tahor's - using the lower octave sounds better in this case, I think.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

On Chazzanut and Helfgot

Chazzanut has always been a mystery to me. It seemed that the only people really interested in it were our grandparents, who from time to time try to explain to the younger generation how great Koussouvitzky was, or how much they missed Yossele Rosemblatt’s voice. Personally, I couldn’t listen to that type of music for more than a minute; that was the most I could take of that awkward old-Jewish traditional music. In my mind, the Chassidic music we all know today – MBD, Yossi Green, Avraham Fried and so on – was our generations’ “official” music while Chazzanut was a faded trend. My only contact with the Chazzanut world had been going to the Great Synagogue whenever I happened to be in Israel and that was it.

Until I went to Park East Synagogue in Manhattan’s East Side. That is the current home of Yitzhak Meir Helfgot, whom I had heard once before at the Madison Square Garden Daf Yomi Siyum. As soon as he started to lead Kabbolas Shabbos, I got immersed in a new world of music. Suddenly, I was able to understand my grandparents’ great excitement about the great Chazzonim of the beautiful shuls in pre-war Europe. Helfgot started the Kabbolas Shabbos with the popular Carlebach tune “Lechu Neraneno” and displayed all his skill and great vocal range in the coming pieces. There was also a very well organized choir, orchestrated by Cantor Naftali Hershtik's son (I can't remember his name), seamlessly singing the background cords and “Amens”. In Shacharit, I saw women and children rushing to the shul just to hear the final song, the joyful Adon Olam at the end of the service and I came to the conclusion that I was witnessing the rebirth of Chazzanut. I was so impressed that I decided to learn how to enjoy Chazzanut and I purchased Helfgot’s Avot album, featuring the breathtaking Halelu and other great songs. Finally, I learned how to enjoy Chazzanut.

Helfgot is behind the revival of Chazzanut in our days. Never before, since after the WW2, has this genre been so popular and Helfgot is requested at Chuppas and weddings, for a great sum of dollars. The trend is back, and even people such as me who never had any interest in Chazzanut are starting to undrestand the beauty of it.

There is a caveat though. When I say I enjoy Chazzanut today, I mean to say that I enjoy Helfgot - I still can’t bear the old recordings of Yossele and Koussovitzky. I attribute that fact to Helfgot’s Nusach. He sings a lighter version of Chazzanut, mixing old tunes with more contemporary songs, creating a very interesting musical blend. Helfgot has sold-out performances at the Met from time to time and there are many smaller concerts of Chazzanut in a monthly basis in NY today. In the Pessach cruises, it’s not enough to have a good singer anymore; the best ones make sure to get the most popular cantors, a sign of the popularity of Chazzanut in the last years. If you like music and are ready to enjoy something different, go after Helfgot and hear his songs a few times. Don’t let yourself out of the Chazzanut Revolution of our time.

Click here to watch a YouTube video of Helfgot.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A.K.A.Pella 2

A.K.A.Pella returns to the music scene with this new blend of (recent) old songs. In his first album, they managed to come up with an interesting selection of songs and I loved “ScrabDror Fair”, because of the good choice of words for this non-Jewish song. The first album wasn’t excellent but it was interesting to hear the computerized beats and the good vocals. The public’s expectation for their second album was a more original work, less focused in the computers and more centered in the quality of the songs and harmonies.

When I looked at the list of songs in the album cover, I was surprised to see Lecha from Chevra, a few Shalsheles songs and Im Lovon from Lev Tahor – which are quite recent songs also sung by young groups. Lecha was never a great hit specifically because the song was too focused in the electronic beats and excessive harmonies. AKAPella did the exact same thing, in an Acapella setting. That alone crushed my expectations here, since the first song should be new and refreshing.

Regarding the Shalsheles songs I think no one is better at singing them than Shalsheles themselves. They created a new style of music that was very successful because of the light harmonies and the simple musical arrangements. A.K.A.Pella did the opposite – “heavy” harmonies and obstructive arrangements. Additionally, Kol Halayla released an album featuring a marvelous Acapella version of Ekrah (hear sample here), far superior than this one, last year. A.K.A.Pella apparently copied the idea.

The lack of originality is highlighted in the Album cover, copied from American Idol (I refer you to the copyright infringement discussion Aryeh had in his blog).

Computerized beats, old songs, promotional videos, catchy album jackets cannot be the “supporting beams” of a musical project. Good Music = originality and A.K.A.Pella should focus more on that next time. I think they are talented – a special mention to that guy who sang Yesimcha in the first album (I think it’s Avi Stewart), who is a great vocalist – but they have to figure out what are their core competencies i.e. what makes them special and different from everyone else in regards to music. After all, isn’t this what they keep on saying to the candidates on American Idol?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Ohad and Dedi

In my review of Ohad's latest album, I mentioned he sounded a bit like Dedi.
Well, I should perhaps add that they sing similar songs as well. In Ohad's first album, in the last song, Ohad sings a little of an old Dedi tune - Omar Rabbi Elozor. The composer of the two songs is YG, which explains why that part of the song is identical to Dedi's classic song. Here excerpts of the two songs here and see yourself what I mean!!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Brief Comment on Gertner

I was planning to write a review on Shloime Gertner, but the whole world seems to be saying the same thing over and over – he’s voice is plain, nothing special. I obviously agree and I realized that writing a full review is pointless in this case.

Gertner is not the first newcomer who has average vocals. This is a trend in JM, we see it every so often. The best example is Yehuda!, who was also nothing special in his first album Modim (the one with a lion alongside him) but managed to become one of the most talented singers today. He wasn’t half as good when he started, but today he is a dynamic singer. He has even started to arrange, compose and produce his albums. In other words, the sluggish start was just a prelude of what was coming.

Another example is Shloime Dachs, who had an annoying voice at first but has improved his vocals over time. I believe that because there are few good singers in JM today, the public seems to be patient with the newcomers, and as long as they sound decent people become excited of what will be coming in the future from this new talent. Shloime Gertner fits this profile. He is good, but far from great. I, just like everyone else, hope he follows Yehuda!’s footsteps by working on himself to be a more dynamic singer, with more energy and sweetness. He has the potential.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Decent Clip, for a change

Jewish Music video clips are usually a disaster - boring, cheesy and not well mixed.

Someone sent me this YBC clip and guess what, it's not bad.

I'm not a fan of boys choirs, but many people enjoy it, so I'm posting it here to those of you who like it.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Yossi Green

Before I post a review on Shloime Gertner’s album, I would like to discuss about the man behind Gertner’s music – Yossi Green, the composer and vocal arranger of most of the songs in the album. YG is an outstanding composer and he’s probably one of the most prolific composers of Jewish Music history, having composed hundreds of songs, in more than one hundred albums. He started composing for the London Boys Choir and never stopped. Lately, his music sounds more contemporary and he even ventured to compose oriental-style music (Ki Hatov, Halo Yadata etc..) and techno songs (i.e. Wald’s Echod and Ohad’s Gedoilo). He is not the typical Yeshivish composer anymore - Pinky Weber has that post today. In an industry where most people are amateurs who have little formal musical knowledge, YG is one of the few pros that are constantly evolving and he is always scouting for new singers to sing his songs. He produced albums for virtually all A-list singers in the industry, from Lipa to Dudu Fischer. One of his biggest accomplishment’s was his partnership in Dedi’s the sky-rocketing career in the mid-90’s, when Dedi became just as popular as Avraham Fried and MBD, if not more.

But as much as I appreciate Green’s music, it’s just disappointing to see he’s the only bringing new music to the industry consistently. Most of the other composers compose occasionally, whenever they are lucky enough to compose something that sounds good I guess. Obviously there are other good composers out there but I don’t see more than handful composers that take JM seriously. Every single time there’s a new singer, Yossi Green is behind the biggest hits. That was the case with Dedi, Shwekey (Shomati), Ohad (Ve’erastich), Michoel Shnitzler, Michoel Pruzanski (Da Lifnei Mi), Craimer (British chazzan who released an album two years ago with YG), Lipa (Mi Sheomar), Yaakov Young (Yogati) and now Gertner, just to name a few. The musical mind behind all those singers was Yossi Green and that highlights how one-sided is Jewish Music today. There’s a lack of professional composers, people are musically talented and know how to compose an original piece.

That probably explains why so many singers started to compose songs themselves, kind of an Im-Ein-Ani-Li-Mi-Li approach. Avraham Fried has composed many great songs already, like Lechaim in Yerushalaim, and most of the songs in MBD’s latest album were his own compositions. Even Ohad started to compose as well, in his latest album (see review).

In the last ten years, I only have in mind one new musical talent that started to compose songs consistently, bringing a new sound and genre within JM. That’s Yizthok Rosenthal, the man behind the Shalsheles. He composed songs for the three Shalsheles albums, for his Shabbos album featuring many guest singers, for Shalsheles Junior and for Yaakov Young. The public instantly absorbed his music and his songs were instant hits, but that’s still too little if you take JM as a whole. We need more, much more. I hope we see some new knowledgeable composers entering the Jewish Music world in the near future. Until then, all I can say is long live Yossi Green.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Beatboxing + Flute

Nothing to do with Jewish Music, but I tought it was very creative and worth of note.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Sephardi/Oriental/Middle-Eastern Songs

Posted in the Shwekey Review thread:

“... (Shwekey) has clearly demonstrated originality and talent in the songs he sings which have a Sephardic influence. So why aren't there more of these style songs? In fact, isn't Shwekey himself of Sephardic persuasion? 
Although he is overwhelmingly popular with the Yeshiva crowd (such that all of his songs instantly becoming Shabbos zemiros at certain places), I don't know why he doesn't stay closer to his roots, especially after seeing how these are typically the best songs he puts out.” Anonymous


That's a very good point. There’s no doubt that the Sephardic/Oriental/Middle-Eastern tunes are “in” today – most albums have at least one and they are constantly played at weddings. Just like Yeedle popularized the V’ato Bonim-kumzitz-style of songs, Shwekey started a new trend when he sang Ki Hatov in Shwekey 2.

The Sephardic songs we hear today are just an imitation, what I label “the Ashkenazi version” of Oriental songs. Let me explain why. Yossi Green, the most traditional composer of Chasidic music, composed Ki Hatov and Ata Shomer; In Generations of Song, Yehuda composed Ana Avda; Boruch Levine, another well known composer of Chasidic music, composed Halo Yadata for Shwekey in his latest album and even Eli Gerstner composed a few. The arrangers of these songs are the standard guys that we know Laufer, Lamm, Gerstner and others.

These musicians actually did a pretty good job so far but since they are oblivious of the complexities and subtle characteristics of this genre, which has special musical scales and unique concepts of rhythm and harmony, there’s little originality in their compositions. They might be able to compose one or two great songs, but not more than that since that’s not their musical field. That anwers “why aren't there more of these style songs?”, I think. I believe only a Sephardi composer, who grew up listening and singing Oriental songs, would be able to bring this genre to a new level.

That already happened in Israel, where Chaim Israel became incredibly popular and came up with a few hits already, like Malachim Hakdoshim (Shwekey sings it often). His secret? He composes and sings modern, well-arranged and catchy Sephardic songs to the religious public. He’s original and has made an impact already in the Sephardi music world.

After his standard releases (like Yogati, Yedid), Shwekey has been recording assorted albums like the Wedding Album and the Kumzitz Album, where he sings popular songs in a more simple production. Since Shwekey just released an album, I hereby suggest him to record the Sephardi Album, where he would sing Sephardic tunes with other prominent Sephardic singers. If you think Shwekey is the only great Sephardi singer in the US, think again. Dovid Gabay, Boruch Aboud and Ohad (I invite the readers to explain why he has such an Ashkenazi name – Moskowitz) are Sephardim and are among the best voices in Jewish Music today. An album like that would surely please the listeners, who are starving for something new, and it would bring new life to the Sephardic/Oriental/Middle-Eastern songs to come. Amen.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Stars - What do they mean?

* = don’t bother listening it
** = below average
*** = nothing special, but not bad
**** = original, worth of note
***** = superb

Ohad's Oh!2

This is Ohad’s second solo album and it’s similar to his first one V’erastich. If you compare this album to Shwekey, MBD or Fried, the music is a little more “modern”, or less Yeshivish; Ohad has not only a voice of his own, but also a style of music that is original and new. He is what Dedi was in the beginning of his career – he’s energetic, he’s Israeli, he has a great voice range and like Dedi, he partnered with Yossi Green to produce, compose and sing in his albums. Ohad even sounds a little like Dedi.

Ohad took a greater role in this album – he composed a few songs and he does harmonies more often than in V’erastich. At the same time, Yossi Green shared the load of producing this album with David Fadida and he composed five songs this time (in V’erastich is basically did everything himself). In other words, Ohad took the lead in this project and gave a special personal twist to this album.

In every aspect, Kol Zman is a typical Moshe Laufer song – his choice of words, the wedding-friendly rhythm and the horn-filled music arrangement. Ohad is aiming here for another wedding hit – he did it before with Ma Shehoyo in his first album – and that’s why Kol Zman is the opening song of the album. I’m not a big fan of Laufer’s compositions, but I know this will be a wedding hit. ***

Gedolo Shiro is a very unique song. The first time I heard this song I had a tough time discerning between the high and low part – it seemed like a one-part song, which would constitute a quasi-heresy for Jewish Music standards. The song also has an Oif Simchas feel, most certainly because of the modern beats and Green’s choice of words – it sounds like Yishai Lapidot’s lyrics, but this song is actually from a Medrash. The shady arranger – “groovemates” – did a good job here and all I can say is that this song is very original (that’s a compliment). ****

Chavivin is not brilliant, but it’s not bad. The only chidush here is in the end of the high part, when there’s a sharp note. That’s quite unusual for a Jewish disco song; typically we hear that in middle-eastern songs like Shwekey’s Halo Yadata and Ki Hatov. ***

Ohad also composes Etz Hayim, a superb slow song. The arrangement is simple, just piano and strings, and Yossi Green’s choir is also smoother than usual, which is very appropriate for this tasteful song. Ohad’s harmony in the low part is really nice, that’s one of his fortes, and his improvisation in the high part is very touching. "Oh!". ****

I still don’t really understand what Sholom Aleichem is all about. I can’t see anyone singing it Friday night nor in a wedding dance; the song lacks energy and geshmackness. I think every Ohad album needs a Shabbos song that it’s not so Shabbesdik – in V’erastich that was the case with Lecha Dodi. I actually dislike Yuval Stupel’s arrangements because they sound too traditional and familiar for my personal taste. He’s popular in the Israeli music industry - he arranged songs for Udi Ulman and Yehuda Dym, two sucesfull Israeli singers - but not so famous here in the US. **

Odcho’s opening is very intense, and the whole song has a rock feel. The man behind this is Ron Tichon, an expert in techno and rock arrangements (I refer you to my review on Mendy Wald’s Echod, also arranged by Tichon). In 4:28 Ohad switches keys with an interesting harmony, which sounds very different. ****

Veyochon, composed by Ohad, is my favorite song in this album. The “groovemates”, whoever they are, made a great arrangement for this song mixing great synth beats with Mizrachi-style (aka middle-eastern) string lines. I also like the transition between the low and high part of the song – the last time I heard something like that was in Yossi Rose’s Hiney, which also had a transition between the low and high part. *****

The next song, Ekroeko, is a more Yeshivish slow song composed by Pinky Weber, the foremost Yeshivish composer in JM today (think of Shwekey’s Rachem and Besho [in Yedid]). I once chose the same words for a composition but “Ekroeko” always sounded a bit awkward for me, I think Ekroecho sounds much better…Again, the arrangement is a plain “Laufer” arrangement and the song is good, but what stands out is Yossi Green’s choir - his vocal arrangements here are awesome, specially when he responds to Ohad in the high part. ****

Stop! is a cheesy English song, mostly because of the weird lyrics. Yossi Green used to compose superb English songs for Dedi (Ima and Tati, remember?) and he’s apparently trying it again, with less success. The vocal arrangements are actually good and contemporary (Ron Tichon), but, because of the lyrics, the song never flies.
**
Neshomole is a cute Hebrew song where you hear the motto is… Neshomole, Neshomole and more Neshomole. It’s not a great song, but it good enough for the last song I guess. Again, I don’t like Stupel’s arrangement so much, there’s nothing new or exciting about it. The songs switches keys in 3:45, and I don’t like it at all. I think that move has to be seamless and smooth, and what I heard was all but that. **

Oh!2 is an original and refreshing album. It’s far from perfect (an average of 3.3 stars) but it’s worth my money. Additionally, I applaud their decision of getting a new arranger – the “groovemates”, I hope we hear more from them.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Shwekey's Leshem Shomayim

Birshus’ intro features Shwekey singing a piece that sounds remarkably similar to the Selichos nusach, and I believe this was intentional – Shwekey is asking for permission to sing, like a Chazan in front of the Kahal. However, this has no apparent connection to the song’s words, which are from Bircas Hamozon. The first part of the song is very catchy and sweet, while the second part is less powerful. The arrangement is simple, like most songs Mona arranges, but it sounds appropriate for this catchy slow song. ****

Leshem Shomayim is the album’s theme song, mostly because of the inspiring words – the tune is not outstanding. But I couldn’t see Shwekey choosing any other song as the album’s theme song, and I think they had to choose this because it was their only option. The song changes keys twice, in 4:04 and 4:34, probably because they had to figure out a way to keep this not-so-spectacular song going for more than 2 or 3 minutes. ***

Just like all other Shwekey’s previous albums, there’s the Chupa song composed by Yitzy Waldner (in Shomati he composed Meheiro, in Shwekey 2 it was Mi Adir and in Yedid it was Sameach), Eishes Chayil. This song sounds like Waldner’s previous compositions and it will surely be heard in most upcoming weddings. My bet is that in the next album Waldner will compose a Mi Von Siach, to complete his work. I give credit for Waldner for being able to keep composing all these heartfelt Chupa songs consistently in every Shwekey album. But there’s one thing – in the last two seconds of the song Shwekey experiments a very weird shtick, possibly in an effort to make this song unique, and in my opinion the shtick sounds horrible. ***

Emes is a long and boring freilach song. This song is like Yiree of Yedid, but the 12th song, Koli(***), is another freilach and it’s much better than this one. *

Yizkereim a sad slow song that reminds me of Rachem (in Shomati) and Av Horachamim (in 2), but there’s no comparison – Yizkereim is not half as good as these songs. Just because this type of “rachamim” song worked before, it doesn’t mean that it will always work. Not pleasant to listen, nor original. ***

Halo Yadata is by far the most original song and best song in the album, this time composed by Baruch Levine (and not Yossi Green [where’s is he? I guess he was too busy co-producing Ohad’s album], who composed Ki Hatov and Ata Shomer). These oriental songs are very “in” today, but this one is far superior than all other stuff that it’s out there. Shwekey’s Sefardi shtick in the word Hashem is superb, and the choir by Eli Laufer is also very original and appropriate for the song. *****

Regarding the two versions of Tatte, I dislike both of them. It’s an old song, Lev Tahor already reintroduced it not long ago and to hear it twice in this album is just asking for too much (I pointed out a similar problem in my review of Matisyahu's album. Who would guess they would have something in commom..:) *

Hein Am, composed by Shwekey brother and Waldner (my bet is that MD Shwekey composed the high part and had Waldner’s assistance with the low part), is very energetic and it has original words. Finally we have a short (3:46 mins) and strong fast song. ****

Ki Lashem - ***

Ma Ma Ma - ***



⇒ That’s all I have to say about this album. Leshem Shomayim is not awesome and it doesn't quite meet the public's expectations, but it’s a good album. Yossi Green absence in this album is greatly felt and I think that’s one of the big reasons why there are few special pieces in this album. For the next albums, Shwekey will have to innovate some more - his previous albums were in higher level and if he continues this way we will get tired of him. Average stars: 2.6 (if you disconsider the two tattes [fill-ins..], an average of 3 stars)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Matisyahu’s “New” Album

I’ve been hearing that Matisyahu was coming out with a new album for quite some time. After the great success of Youth, Matis is trying to keep the momentum going and he released this seven-song album that also features a video footage of one of his concerts.

The cover artwork is superb, it looks very futuristic and original, and in my opinion it’s far better than the artwork of Youth (which was somewhat boring and simplistic). Good artwork usually lifts my expectations about what’s inside the album, but I was disappointed with the music. There is sticker in the album’s cover saying that this album features seven”brand new songs”, but this claim is misleading. In real terms, there are NO new songs; all the songs are remakes of Matisyahu’s most popular songs. “Message In The Bottle” is originally sung by The Police and, although it’s a great rock song with some reggae moments, it’s not a new song. Additionally, there are two remakes of “Jerusalem” and the latter one sounds very weird – it’s a terribly slow version of Matisyahu’s song. In other words, almost 30% of the music in this album is alternative versions of Jerusalem. Give me a break.

And there’s a remake of “Warrior”, but this song was also in Matisyahu’s first and second album (“Live at Stubb’s”) and to reintroduce it again it’s a stretch. I think it’s unacceptable to have one song, which is by the way not so great, in three out of four albums of Matisyahu.

A point can be made that this CD is much more about the video footage, showing Matisyahu performance at stage. If that’s the case, I don’t think this should be considered Matisyahu’s fourth album. It’s just a video of his live concerts.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Mendy Wald’s Echod

This is a typical old-school Jewish music album. When I write old school, I’m referring to Wald, Shloimy Dachs, Avrumie Flam, Yisroel Williger and other singers that aroused in the 90’s and are still around. And when I say typical I mean that this album has few good songs and the rest are just fill-ins.

Echod is a techno song composed by Yossi Green and evidently arranged by Ron Tichon. Tichon is the foremost arranger of techno songs in Jewish Music today and he is not bad at it. I like the contemporary sound of his arrangements, but they are not very intricate in general. This three-part song is different than usual because the range of the notes sung is small (as you all know, JM songs typically have one very low part and one very high part), forcing Wald to improvise a little more than he’s used to. If you listen carefully you can hear Yossi Green’s classic choir in the middle of the song, but YG apparently wasn’t very involved in the vocal arrangements this time. I just kind of didn’t like the way the song ended, I thought it was too abrupt and Tichon’s closing of the song was unimpressive. Other than that, Echod is great.

Regarding the second song, Tzaddik, one thing comes right away to any listener’s attention. The song starts ok but the high part is Anachnu Ma’aminim bnei Ma’aminim, yes, the exact same words of MBD’s hit song. After listening countless times to MBD’s Ma’aminin song in weddings, radios and iPod’s the last thing I want to hear is another Ma’aminim song. Because of that, Tzaddik is a complete flick to me. Is it too hard to find other lyrics in Torah, Nach and Guemora instead of Ma’aminim? Even more so, why place it as the second song of the album? If it would be the album’s last song, this would be more acceptable but as it is, Tzaddik is a disaster.

Ve’seorev is a great composition of Boruch Levine, one of my favorite composers. Levine originally composed slow songs for Yehuda! and, in opinion, he always excels in slow songs (he also came out with a solo album a few months ago – to be reviewed…). What stands out in this song is the softness of Wald’s voice, specially when he sings the word “shchinoscho” and although this is for the credit of the composer, I was impressed by how Mendy was able to make it sound special. I once spent a shabbos with Mendy and everyone is always amazed by his powerful and strong voice, and rarely you will hear someone saying that Mendy’s voice is soft. But after hearing this song I came to the conclusion that Mendy became a much more versatile singer in the past few years.

Marbe was composed by a friend of Mendy and it’s more about his friendship with this guy than good music. The first and second part of the song sound very alike and there nothing special about the song, arrangement or the guest singer (the composer).

Mi Yaleh is a three-part song originally released in JJ Fried’s niggun album 5 or 6 years ago and it was reintroduced in this album. The other songs are just fill-ins.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Funny Voicemail

I just heard a hilarious voicemail made by the already famous Pinchos "The Imitator".
He imitates Yeedle, Yossi Green and others. Click here to hear it.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

YYY - Yaakov Young's Yogati

Yaakov Young’s album Yogati is his first solo album and it is an interesting project. After the great success of Shalsheles I and II, Yizthok Rosenthal realized that the buzz around his group was fading and he decided to branch out. He co-produced Rozo De’Shabbos, a great album featuring Shalsheles and various other big names like Aish, Lev Tahor & Shlomie Dachs. Last year, Rosenthal made a children’s version of his group, coined Shalsheles Junior. In Yogati, for the first time, Rosenthal hands over a large number of his compositions to a solo singer and that’s what makes Yogati different.

Young is a skilled singer and has a well-coached voice. The best song of the album is surely Gal Gal, a great fast and leibedig disco. At the very end of the first and second part of the song Rosenthal incorporated two traditional klezmer shticks, and Young does a great job singing it. The arrangement is simple and it’s easy to hear Yisroel Lamm’s signature string lines, which actually adds very little to the this song. The only thing that catched my attention was the introduction of the song, when Young sings the song slowly. It sounds a lot like Titanic’s theme song intro.. but I nevertheless liked it.

Shir Hamalos is the typical Shalsheles-like slow song and it has the same feel of Ekrah (Shalsheles I) and Shma (Volume III). The arrangement is basically accompanied by the piano and string lines. There’s little innovation in this song, but it’s just as good as Shalsheles’ most famous slow songs. Young doesn’t add too much to this song in particular and I felt like he didn’t really bring this song to a new level. It would be just as good in Shalshels upcoming album.

The album’s theme song is Yogati, composed by Yossi Green. Frankly, it’s a weird song. After listening it many times, it still sounds strange and it’s not one of YG’s finest compositions, albeit not being a bad song. I’m convinced that Gal Gal is far superior and original, and I think Gal Gal should have been the album theme song. Yogati is a hard song to sing and I think Young had a tough time interpreting it. He sings it in a key that seem to be too high for him and towards the end of the song he becomes annoying.

The other songs are just average songs in my opinion. Torah stands out as a good freilach song and Nachem is decent. I particularly liked Young’s harmony in the word Nachem, I tought it sounded very unique but I think that is it for the album. Yogati is not a excellent album but it’s a good one.

Welcome to JMF!

I started this blog because I felt that there was a lack of websites discussing JM in the web in a serious and honest way. There are a handful blogs who are actually very good, like Aryeh's JM Blog and Blog in Dm, but I always found myself looking for more reviews and posts in the web to no avail. I will post my impressions and comments about singers, albums and other interesting and relevant topics in Jewish Music and hopefully I will be successful in having you coming back often.