Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Announcements

* I will be posting less frequently until after Elul, as we get closer to the Yamim Noraim and all else.

* I originally planned to write a review on Yeedle's latest album and I even went to the music store in Geula to get it, but after a quick look in the album I lost my interest. Yeedle's album sounded too typical to me, but I can't judge just from a few minutes here and there. I will probably eventually change my mind and buy it anyways, since I did like his last album, so stay tuned. My good friend JoeFlix has posted a review on it, alongside with a piece on Yossi Mayer.

* Pruzanski, one of my favorite soloists, released a video version of his hit You're Watching Me. Credit goes to Gruntig, the best Jewish video blog.

Shuli Rand's Nekuda Tova - Good Point

Good Point is one of those albums that only come out once in a blue moon, unexpectedly. In Israel, Rand became an instant top seller and has become a music celebrity overnight, acclaimed by the public – haredi and secular alike – and by the critics. The Ushpizin guy is now a undisputed music celeb. But in the US, it seems that his album is passing unnoticed like I noted in my earlier post.

I do understand why – Rand’s album is in Hebrew, that is, modern Hebrew, and it takes some brains to understand them. But not much, since most of the songs are based in Chazal and Rabbi Nachman’s teachings, so with a little effort almost everyone will get into the songs.

But the fact remains that this blog is directed to my fellow American readers and consequently this post will be skipped by most of you. I almost gave up in writing this review, but I stubbornly decided to go on and make justice to Rand.

Rand is a maverick lyricist, and this is clear from the very start of this album. His rhymes are natural and interesting. His music style is very dynamic, with influences from jazz, folk music and even western music. All the songs in this have a beginning, middle and end – it’s a story, just like his lyrics. We don’t see this everyday in Jewish Music. The arrangements – unobtrusive, groovy and modern – added a lot to this album, an album where everything falls in place: the lyrics, the tunes and the arrangements. You may not be used to this style of music but technically speaking this album is flawless and those who enjoy REAL good music will eventually fall for it. I will not go to deeply into the songs, this is a more condensed review.

Ma Hatachlit is actually not great and it wasn’t a great choice for the first song, simply because Rand has much more to show than this average western-style song. I would easily choose Arafel instead. **

Ayeka is song of a troubled man looking for his Creator, and the song’s motto is indeed Ayeka – or “Where are You?”. This slow song is smooth and pleasant, (Shuli actually released it some time ago as a single), and the shtick of this song is Shuli’s falsetto when he sings Ayeka. His falsetto is far from perfect, it’s actually very raw, but I loved the idea nevertheless. And the song is short – 4 mins – so you will not get bored. ****

If you want to hear an original, unique, energetic song that sums up what Rand is in just 3 minutes, look no further – just tune to Arafel. This song is just perfect, from the dynamic lyrics, great catchy song and modern arrangement. I spent some time trying to figure out if the lyrics are just a personal account of Rand’s struggle to become religious or if it’s actually a recount of Lot fleeing Sedom. Whatever is his inspiration, Arafel is my favorite in this album and it has found its way to become my current cell phone ringtone. *****

Rand juggles well with the lyrics in the next song, calling the Jews by the “nickname” of Segula (this is based in Chazal) and describing its greatness like one describes a young girl (also based in Chazal). “Many kings had eyes for you”, “Such a pretty girl doesn’t has to change” or “You can’t be just like any other girl” are just a few examples of Rand’s creative lyrics. The lyrics are more solid than the actual tune, so this song lost a star. ***

Hameshorer is the craziest song of this album. It’s about two friends who suddenly find themselves in a fight about larger than life issues, as one of them did Teshuva. The structure of this tune is very similar to Anglo-Saxon folk songs (I bought one of such albums in Britain years back, featuring the most famous folk songs – that’s how I know), but the last bars – when the lyrics speak about the two friends fighting – are different, with many semitones and a very weird sequence of notes specially in very end of the bar. Most people will dislike that, because Rand didn’t use the natural scale here and being that few composers do that in JM, many will certainly feel something sounds weird there. But I loved it because this complication (not using the natural scale) conveys to the listeners the bitterness of the fight between the two friends, if you know what I mean. This song is sad, eventually leading to the death of one of the friends. *****

Ben Melech is a song about a man fighting his nemesis, the Yetzer Harah. In the beginning of the song the man is proud of his successful battles against the Yetzer Hara, claiming “I’m the son of a king, made of strong stones”. Shortly after, in 1:35, Shuli does a vocal shtick, sounding like he is falling from a cliff – that’s the prelude for the next part of the song, when the proud man is suddenly trapped by the Yetzer Hara, and confesses he was to naïve to think the battle was over. The lyrics and concept of this song are just amazing and the song interpretation of Rand is above average, one of his best in this album. The tune is rather more simple than usual for Rand, but there’s so much going in this song and a complicated tune would most probably ruin this song. I wouldn’t change anything in this song. *****

The next song, Nekuda Tova, is the album’s main song and Rand’s shortest song – just 2:40! (I think this is the shortest JM song I can remember.) With fewer lyrics and a very tasteful duet with Ehud Banai, Rand speaks about Galut and how each good deed (that’s the real meaning of Nekuda Tova in this context) we do causes this suffering to come to a close. At first this song seems too simple, but after a few times you will not stop singing its catchy chorus. Ehud Banai’s duet added so much to this song – without him this song would fall short. Once again Rand shows he has a key skill for a musician – common sense and evenhandedness. I guess he realized this song wasn’t good enough just with him so he got someone to help him. Worked. *****

Mochin is a Breslov manifesto-song from beginning to end, with lyrics about Atzvut, praying in the fields and happiness. I didn’t connect to this song, it’s not in the same level of Rand’s previous songs. **

Refael is a very cool song about a man’s trip to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s burial place. This poor guy has no car and he’s waiting for a “tremp” or ride in Hebrew in the side of the highway. Since I also wwas in Meiron, just a few months agofor Lag Baomer, I can relate a lot to this song. ****

Achoti is a song about a man and his Neshama, how he regrets the bad he has done and how he plans to repent. He says he will be as brave as a lion (taken from Chazal), he will be the first to do a mitzvah and so on. The tune and arrangement are very interesting a novel for Jewish Music. It’s an old fashioned ballad, with nice natural percussion and traditional strings. This song brings you back twenty years in time and it is a sure hit for the older listeners. Shuli does a very fine job in the vocals, with a special mention for the closing – great! ****

Since the review is already long I will only rate the last one Mitoch, a decent last song with many "suspended" notes and a groovy sound. ***

Last Words: This album is not for everyone, and if you are not one of those wow-Shwekey-AvrumFried-are-just-the-best-singers-and-no-one-can-do-music-as-well-as-they-do kind of guy, you will not enjoy Nekuda Tova. But if you are broader minded, open to something a bit different, or if you are just the kind of guy who likes good music, do yourself a favor and buy this one.