Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My Review of Yaakov Shwekey's Kolot

Here’s my late review of Shwekey’s Kolot album. I’ve covered Shwekey for a long time, and I thought it would make sense to follow up with his album. 

Am Israel is a hit song that Shwekey bet on for this album, and it worked. Very energetic song, faux-Israeli style song that keeps going strong until the end. The arrangement, chorus and all else fit it and allow Shwekey to carry this song very well. *****

Kolot is another clear risk taking song, a departure from Shwekey’s past tendency of sticking with Yeshivish songs. This song is actually a real Israeli-style song and adding Shlomi Shabbat, a legend from non Hassidic Israeli music industry, brings this song to whole different level. Somehow, the interplay between Shwekey and Shabat works - who would think so? The lyrics are very original and what strikes me is how comfortable Shwekey is in this unusual song, showing he can be eclectic too. The opening is gorgeous, with nice choir lines and string, and it’s way above what we are used to in JM. Shwekey’s interpretation and also his Hebrew accent are superb, and the only critique I have is that the song doesn’t get very much momentum; it’s more horizontal mellow, but that is personal. Some people like it. ****

Smeichim is a song I heard individually right after the album came out, and it instantly it became of my all time favourites in JM - that happens rarely today. I would have started the song with a choir, instead of Shwekey, but other than that the arrangement is superb, not too intrusive and with great percussion and strings. I love Shwekey’s diction and Sephardi-accented shticks — a real highlight in this particular song - and I don’t think anyone else would have done as well as Shwekey here. At 2:00 he does a duet with himself, and although Shwekey always does this trick, in this song it sounds specially good. I’m very impressed. The song does get long at 5:00, and the song should have stayed under 4:00 for sure. That’s my only critique. *****

Tefillat Kallah fell short and Shwekey’s interpretation was not as good as the other song we heard in this album. I think this song requires a much sweeter voice, and he was too strident, in my opinion. It’s a subtle song, that requires subtle interpretation, however Shwekey sang it like he sings his hit Meheira, and he misses it.

Ach Sameach’s lyrics are all over the place, a mix of different passages of Chazal and I believe some Rabbi Nachman Breslau (Spotify doesn’t give any credits, so excuse me about possible imprecisions). This a Jewish Music song, forced into Israeli style arrangement and it is much less original than the first three. It feels “tired”. **

Zeh Hakatan is a song about life, an unusual theme in Jewish Music and it’s nice to see that coming up. The tune is great and difficult, requiring a really good singer and unlike in Tefillat Kalla, Shwekey finds the right mood for this song. The song has a lot momentum and it allows the singer to really focus in the words - there’s a connection between the lyrics and tune. *****

Although I appreciate Shwekey’s risk taking - this song, Osim Teshuva, is really out of the box for JM standards - Shwekey seems a little out of place in this song. It’s a real Moshav Band style of song, a little hippie, and I don’t see the fit here for Shwekey . As it is done, the song doesn’t fly, but I must make a special mention to the great guitar solos and the great moment at 3:20, when the arrangement gets more accoustic and laid back. **

Kamu Baneha, by Shwekey’s longtime composer Waldner, is an exceptional song. I love the shtick in the word Vayehalela-lalala, and the composition requires falsettos and a lot of interpretation. Shwekey does a good job in the first part but I think he again hits to hard in the main part of the song; I think he had to be much more subtle, less punchy. ****

Et Rekod is hit song from beginning to start. The arrangement is top-class, also the vocal arrangement lines are perfect, I would not change a thing. The song itself is very interesting, and I would’ve featured it in the beginning of the album instead of Ach Sameach. It’s a great song to dance, with great lyrics and energy. It’s a song type that is also much more fitting for Shwekey, oppoesed to Osim Teshuva. Five star song and a good surprise at this point of the album. *****

Asara Bnei Adam is a typical Razel song, with original lyrics and interesting tune. I would’ve featured Razel from the beginning and only later have Shwekey join in, because Razel adds a lot of authenticity and extra taste to a song like this one. The partnership Shwekey-Razel is one of the most exciting and unusual ones in Jewish Music, since Razel brings to mainstream the Israeli Jewish Music style, something we needed desperately in the US based JM industry. He adds musicality, lyrics and authenticity that was so lacking. I personally don’t connect very much with this song but it’s a valid musical shot. ***


You guys know I’ve been extremely critical of Shwekey in the past for not trying something different and for not pushing the boundaries. In fact, one of my most popular blog posts is the one blasting Shwekey’s album Ad Bli Dai for this reason. I really felt Shwekey had stopped in time, and that he wasn’t doing anything creative. Kolot is a really great surprise and a much more interesting direction for him - the creative and production value of this album is unparalleled in JM today. Shwekey is now brining new sounds and new lyrics, and I give credit where credit is due. This is probably my favorite album in 2014, alongside Eli Shwebel’s Hearts Mind.