Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pessach

I will not be posting until after Pessach because I'm touring around Europe and I'm not expecting to have web access.

I'm planning to write a review of AKAPella 3 soon after Pessach. Stay Tuned.

Pessach Kosher Vesameach

Thursday, April 3, 2008

8th Note Review

I will start with a disclaimer. Much has been said about my alleged bias towards Yossi Green. Some think I like everything he does, some suspected me of being YG himself, given the similarity between our names, and some (Joel) have even suggested me to get a room with him. Well, I want to make clear that no one is above criticism and even the geniuses make mistakes. In other words, in this review I will analyze YG like any other musician and singer, not as a necessary “evil” (this is a quote from a reader) i.e. ignoring whatever shortcomings this album might have. In this review I’m not reviewing YG’s career, I’m just reviewing his latest album, the 8Th Note.

Let’s start with the concept behind this album. The concept is similar to Gideon Levine’s Best of the Best, where Gideon sings half of the song while a guest star does the other half. Except for a few songs, that’s what YG did here, but his guest singers have a different style than Gideon’s. Gideon’s guests are usually the old-school singers like Dachs, Wald, Shwekey and the like. The 8th note reaches for the Mizrachi music fans that love Chaim Israel and Gad Elbaz, the Matisyahu fans and the public who loves groupies like Lev Tahor and AKAPella. So the 8th note has a wider appeal.I think “8th note” was a very creative name, even though one of the most famous record labels in Israel is called.. the HaTav Hashmini – the 8th note.

Lishinsky usually does techno arrangements and I haven’t heard him doing arrangements like this one, which is very simple and not very edgy. In Mendy Wald, Shloimie Gertner and Gabay’s opening songs, all composed by Green, the constant was the techno / edgy feel. Layehudim is not like that, as it relies heavily in the creative lyrics and not on many other interesting shticks. True, the Teimani Rabbi is there for a few seconds but in this song he can barely be heard. It’s a catchy song, but the arrangement didn’t add much to it. ****

Anovim is a perfect song. The song is breathtaking, MBD was born to sing it and Freiberg’s arrangement brings this song to a stellar level. Surprisingly, YG was up to the task singing-wise and he took this song really well. I haven’t heard him interpreting a song this well, even throwing in a very cool vocal shtick in 3:51. Five stars is not enough for this one. It’s above everything else. ******

Sefor has an “ethnic” feel, mostly because of the cool flute solo and the very creative idea of bringing in a Teimani reading of the Passuk into the song. This last shtick really makes sense as the Teimanin allegedly have the most accurate Havara (pronunciation) and I guess this is the closest to what the Passuk should really sound like (click here for my post on this subject). Lev Tahor are the guest singers but Eli Shwebel did 90% of job. Gadi, who’s really amazing in the lower harmonies and usually mimics the bass lines, can barely be heard and the other one (forgot his name) was probably not even there. *****

It almost seems like Beshivtecho was supposed to be featured in Gertner’s last album – it was evidently composed having him in mind. Gertner’s Chassidish groove fits in very well in this song, which is a three-part. Without the third part, YG’s niggun, this song would be flat and missing something – it’s really amazing how YG is able to bring this song to a new level with a simple yet cool niggun. I must note that like in his debut album, Gertner again played too safe in this song. He basically sang his part but did virtually no improvisation, opposed to YG who was clearly having a blast singing it. Gertner is really good, but he must let himself out of the box a little more. ****

Chaim Israel is next in the line up and I felt it wasn’t the right song for him. Although Chaim Israel has many great slow songs in his curriculum (Mimamakim, from his first album, is a good example), he seemed to be out of his comfort zone here. The song never gets momentum and although this song is not at all a flick, in my opinion YG didn’t play his cards well in this song. ***

There was a big effort to make Al Todin sound like an authentic Reggae song, and in this sense, it was a success. However, a distinction must be made between a Reggae song and a good Reggae song. Al Todin is not a great Reggae song – YG was weak in the vocals and the words were repetitive. At this point it’s clear that YG’s voice can sound good, like in Anovim, but it can also become a liability, as we see here. I will elaborate more about this towards the end of the review. Allegedly, Matisyahu was supposed to be the guest singer, but couldn’t come because he’s in contract with Sony. If Matis would indeed come, I’m sure he would build up the song and add his creative lyrics. But he didn’t, so the song is just what it is – one of the weakest from this album. **

Lama is one of the most interesting songs of the album, featuring Mo Kiss. He has a very pleasant voice and carries this song well alongside with YG. But I do feel Mo Kiss’ core competency is in background vocals and vocal arrangements, as seen in Pruz’s album. Mo’s sweet and pop-ish voice, plus his talent in harmonies make him the perfect man perfect for these roles. But I repeat, he did a very good job as a soloist here as well. Lyrics are original, the tune is very pop-ish and catchy. I liked the digression in 3:15 and this is one of my favorites. *****

In Kanei we see the unthinkable – Helfgot singing alongside with YG. Let’s start with the song. It’s not a Chazzanus piece, but Helfgot has shown many times he’s not limited to the realms of Chazzanus – in that sense, he’s the Andrea Bocceli of JM -, and he sings this song flawlessly. The tune is really nice and powerful, the lyrics are perfect and YG did the right choice to go with Rigler, the frontrunner arranger for string lines. Coming back to the Helfgot-YG duet, it doesn’t works too well. Helfgot has a very high pitch voice, and as a result, YG is forced to sing his weak high notes, taking away from the beauty of this song. A full choir, like the one I hear in the Jerusalem Great Synagogue or like the one featured in Fried’s Zaroh, would raise this song to a classic. ****

I have an old grudge with Yiddish songs that is not specifically related to the next song, Yossel. I think no more than 30% of JM listeners understand Yiddish (ok, maybe 40 or even 50%) and I’m not part of that group, so when I hear a song like Yossel I always get worried. But this song was easy to understand, is a song-anthology about Yossi’s outstanding carreer, and it’s more about the lyrics than the actual the tune, which is not amazing, but it’s a fun song. Thanks to my Yiddish speaking wife, who explained to me the more complicated words. ****

Hesech Hadas is a good song, but as I noted in my other 8th Note post, the “Avraham Fried sings about Mashiach” concept has become a cliché, so just like any other cliché song, this song is not up there. The lyrics are again novel, but I’m not fond of this song. All Fried’s fast songs from Bein Kach are superior to this one. ***

Naaseh starts off really great but the high part is too simple, so it sounds like the song is missing a third part, maybe a niggun like in Beshivtecho. Just imagine Beshivtecho without the niggun - it wouldn't be the same. That's what happened here. This song had the potential to be amazing, as the lyrics are very creative and the first part is interesting, but it unfortunately fell short. However, the Yiddish anecdote in the end is cool, reminds me of Shlomo Carlebach. But there's a mixing issue in the very end of the song - you can hear the sound of a busy phone line and Yossi asking "Hello?". Pretty comic. ***

Mi Adir is something else. It’s not typical and that alone is a compliment. This is a salsa song – reminds me of Macarena – that is very well thought from start to end. The intro and finish are so original (coming back to my Gabay review, how can this be compared to the unoriginal radio intro? This is originality, Gabay’s was a cliché) and the braking of the plate – what a great idea! In almost every JM album there’s a slow Mi Adir and I was afraid this would be just another song, but YG was able to bring new life to the lyrics with a very crazy tune. The second part is a bit weird, but I applaud YG for not being afraid of trying something new and crazy. I’m quite sure this will be a wedding hit – it’s great for dancing.

There are two versions of this albums’ theme song, 8th note, English and Hebrew, so it’s inevitable to compare the two. The English version is more focused in the pleasant harmonies done by AKAPella, with YG featured like the fourth member of it. Here again YG shows that if used smarty, his vocals can add a lot to a song. He sang the first part flawlessly and wow, so softly. And he came up with a great harmony in 2:48, that’s YG at his best. It’s a great song. ****

The Hebrew song is more powerful – Ohad is there and his voice is more expressive and powerful than all AKAPella guys together – and the lyrics seem to flow better, so I prefer this version to the English one. There’s another singer that is uncredited, but I’m quite positive it’s Gad Elbaz – really great singer. *****

-> This is an album unlike any other. It’s an album focused in originality, authenticity and fun, which also has a nice and cool concept behind it – the pursuit of the 8th note. Or, in YG’s own words, the “Journey to the 8th Note”. Everything in this album was thought over and over until it became what it is – a classic. Not all songs are perfect but hey we don’t live in a perfect world. A classic is a classic, and I’m really happy I bought this album. My library would be missing the cherry on top of the chocolate cake -the 8th Note.


Check also Chaim's great post and JB's review.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

8th Note Finally comes to Israel

The 8th Note is finally out here in Israel and the review will come soon. Meanwhile, Jewish Blogmeister says he found Yossi Green's real inspiration for the song Al Todin, posted today. If you don't get it, check here and here.