Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Rabbis of the Talmud: New Album with a mix of human and AI vocals!

Rabbis of the Talmud is a new project bringing you new music with the aid of cutting-edge technology.

There is AI and human vocals, creating a truly unique experience.

The first song is experimental - a list of the Rabbanim of the Talmud, sung as a complex tune. Check out the Youtube video here.

Boie Beshalom is beautiful Huppa song, with lyrics from Shir Hashirim and Lecha Dodi.

There is also Acapella, and some Israeli style songs.

It is all very new, and it will evolve with time. This is the first, and more will follow!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Benny Friedman’s Kulanu Nelech Album Review

Benny Friedman’s latest album, Kulanu, is out on Spotify, and as a paying subscriber I enjoyed listening to this album quite a bit, to the extent that I felt like writing a review for the first time in some years. JM is evolving and improving very much in the past years and this album is a leap forward so I wanted to write about it. Excuse me for not giving proper credits - there’s no way for me to see full credits in Spotify.

Tashiru - Benny’s superb vocals are immediately in display, having improved significantly over the years. This song is really well done - the beat, the lyrics, great arrangement, the choir (very smooth and not too punchy) all give room for Benny to shine, and he is able to keep the song interesting throughout. I specially like the ending of each block with “Ani shar” - a great connector and the interlude at 2:30 adds a lot of feel to this great opener, a song that keeps evolving *****

Kulanu - starts with strong drums, introducing a theme of march to this song. This song explores the parallels of Moses’ demand to Pharao and the days of redemption - Geula. Haven’t seen this type of interplay of story in a while, and it’s makes this song stand out. The marching feel is very appropriate, as the Jews will march to Israel for redemption similarly to the slaves leaving Egypt at the time of Moses. The choir here is very pronounced, fitting in the theme and giving a cool tribal sound. Acapella towards the end wasn’t absolutely necessary but I do love acapella so I will not complain. *****

Beyadaim - first slow song of the album, rather sleepy but with nice lyrics - a letter from father to son. I thought it was not a good choice as a third song of this album, as it comes after two really perfect songs. This is a song I will not remember. ***

Charasho - follows the standard set by the first two songs, this one is a home run. The song has a clear concept - a Russian folk song that Benny even sings in Russian in many parts. And considering that Benny is Chabad, which originated in Russia, the Russian somehow feels right and relevant. The lyrics are very good, and the Russian words also sounds great and fit in. I liked very much the effect at 2:23, and the choir throughout the song is just perfect - not too intrusive but always there to add something extra. The slowdown at 3:05 reinforced the folk feel, specially because the choir just kept repeating only the Russian part of the song to gain momentum. This is the best song in heard in JM in many years, I give a rare sixth star. ******

Yehudi- in Hebrew, a cute song with a strong and catchy high part but the lyrics are not bringing anything new and fall back in the overused theme of Achdut, which are sung in every JM album today with pretty much the same concept - we are all together, we need each other. Doesn’t stand out but the song has its moments. ***

Ten li - another Hebrew slow song, softer than the one before. I thought lyrics were again not up to the standard set by the fast songs up to here, and the choir was weak and even the interlude at 2:25 - singing the traditional Mitzva Gedola Lihiot Besimcha - didn’t match well. **

Ehov- Hebrew song, that talks about how we are all brothers and sisters, and how we need to love each other - falling back again in the Achdut motif, without bringing any meaningful dimension or personality to this song - it feels impersonal. Guest singer sings Moshiach Now repeatedly, adding to the feel of lack of originality.

Am Betzion - Hebrew song about Jerusalem, a very nice song but the lyrics are too simplistic for me. Like other songs, the interludes are all good efforts the one here at 2:30 does make the song more interesting but overall the song falls short and I thought Benny didn’t carry the song as well as in the earlier songs of the album.***

Hareini- a song about preparing oneself for the Miztva (I recently wrote about this in my sister Safrut blog) of Ahavat Israel, and reminiscent of the often-sung Chabad song of Hareini mekabel sung at fabrengens. Perhaps this was done deliberately, but coupled with the average lyrics, this song struggles to fly. ***

Yom echad - I thought Benny carries this song really well, a theme of redemption in Jerusalem and peace. His falsetto is great, and the greatest thing here is the choir - just wow. Not your average JM choir, this is a world-class choir - very impressive and I wish I would see more of this in Jewish Music. In chazzanut I see it often but to see it in a pop JM album is refreshing and it brought the song to another level. ****

Hakol Milemala - builds on the Israeli expression of Hakol Milemala, the strings are very nice and although the song is good, it feels also impersonal, something I felt in some other songs of this album. The next level for JM lyrics, which have improved greatly over the last five years, is to make the songs more personal - personal emotions, situations and experiences. This song stays average ***

Maasim Tovim - what a fantastic surprise towards the end of the album, the best slow song is here. A wedding song, with solid Hebrew lyrics and a song that requires Benny to give it all - and he does just that. High notes are everywhere, falsettos and all else. The arrangement is perfect, with a full orchestra and an amazing choir, giving the song a Disney or if you will a pop-Opera feel. Songs keep growing and Benny is up for the task, and keeps the song interesting throughout. *****

Bishvili- last fast song of the album, it reminds me of Benny’s early songs from his debut album - simple words repetitions and catchy tune. It has worked for him many times, and works here once again. Simple, and sometimes less is more. ****

Conclusion: I think this is Benny’s best album since his debut album. The production value is sky high, with notable effort to get the very best in terms of arrangements, choirs and compositions. Also, the songs lenghts are ideal - not overly long. Benny’s vocals have improved too and he is very comfortable singing a variety of styles featured in this album - an attest to his great talent and a singer and musician. I personally felt the lack of some dissonant moments, or some more sophisticated harmonies but that’s already nitpicking - Benny’s is probably the best pop JM singer out there today and he is breaking new ground. A work well done.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Chazan Benjamin Muller - High Holidays

I got some awesome new High Holydays videos of Benjamin Muller, one of the very best voices I´ve heard in my life. Check it out:

Shma Koleinu - great interpretation and high notes

Kol Nidrei - for nusach lovers

Friday, August 28, 2015

Lipa, the new Shlomo Carlebach

In the aftermath of Lipa's truly remarkable latest album a new picture of Lipa is clearly emerging. Lipa has evolved to be not only a singer but a transformative figure in the JM scene; not only a guy trying to fit in, but an artist conveying a new, fresh message. And this message, of the new Lipa, is present in pretty much all the songs of his album - non-conformism, innovation and positivism. He is often labeled the "Jewish Lady Gaga", but I prefer to compare him to a much more interesting and important person - to Reb Shlomo Carlebach.

Shlomo Carlebach was another transformative figure in Jewish Music. He was more than just music; Carlebach was about connecting to every Jew, irrespective of affiliation, through his simple and catchy niggunim and stories. His impact was truly remarkable and unparalleled, unlike any other Jewish Music artist. 

As popular as they are/were, MBD, Avraham Fried, Shwekey and the like didn't really aim to transform anything. They were great singers, who inspired many with their songs and fitted in what was politically correct in Jewish Music. Lipa is aiming higher, much higher - he wants to transform his community with his music, with a message of openness, education and non-conformism. In his popular Sheni Vechamishi videos, he tackles many hot topics and doesn't shy away from controversy. See two recent examples:

Let's face it - many of the Hareidi/Chassidic communities around the world are increasingly becoming less tolerant and more Ghetto-minded than ever before. As time passes by, these communities are frantically doing what they can to shield themselves from the perceived ills of modern technology and music, and they keep sanctioning more restrictions and chumres. Of course, there's a lot of positive aspects in these communities too but that doesn't mean all is perfect. In fact, it's far from perfect and some of the issues Lipa is raising, like the lack of secular education for example, are really pressing and should be looked into.

Lipa's new album is clearly offering an alternative path. Positivism, non-conformism and innovation, all while staying true to Torah and Halachos. Like Shlomo Carlebach, Lipa is walking his own path and even started his own Shul (Airmont), following Shlomo's footsteps in this aspect. And that does entail some degree of risks - bans, threats and some other unpleasant things that could follow. But like Carlebach, Lipa is now having a real impact, and thus far, a positive in impact in Jewish Music as a whole. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Review of Lipa's Be Positive

This is it! The album I have been waiting to hear for years  is here, above and beyond everything else that has been out there - Lipa's Be Positive. 

This album has been advertised as the first trance-style JM album but that's an overstatement. Yishai Lapidot, who was one of JM's most talented and popular composers some 10 years ago, explored this genre with Oif Simches, a group that was quite successful precisely because of their use of trance music. Lipa at times reminds me of him, in his improvisations and also in the use of Yiddish slangs here and there. 

But Be Positive's production quality sets a higher standard for JM albums - the arrangements are bold and rythmic, there are some interesting rap and Chazzonus add-ons that enhance the songs and there is a general laid back, artistic athmosphere in the making of this album. 

My main frustration with Jewish music was the lack of innovative lyrics and conformism. Lipa fixes these two problems heads on - the lyrics are fresh and he has evolved to be the main non-conformist artist in JM. And non-conformism is the most powerful asset in music, so the results are far better than Lipa's previous works. Let's get to the songs:

Ma Nishana has a child intro and you all know how I dislike screaming children, but I understand this fits in the the subject of the song - the kids recital of Ma Nishtana in Passover. I still think the intro gives the wrong feel to the song, and the second child piece at 2:55 is better and suffices for the concept. Matt does an amazing job with the harmonies, specially in 2:10 which is star quality and with great chorus towards the very end of the song. It's a good opening act and its well done. ****

Bueh attracted significant controversy after Kol Chai radio from Israel decided to censor it from Tucker's radio show, against his will. Allegedly, the editors felt the song is not appropriate for the honor of three Torah sages mentioned in the song. Like other bans, now everyone wants to hear what's so bad about this song about Gedoilin. Bueh is a song-story, illuminating Lipa's journey to three sages asking for a blessing. Song-stories are rather rare in JM, but as the lyrics in the industry improve, I hope we get many more of songs like this. Shuli Rand, the actor-singer of the blockbuster Ushpizin film, is the master of this genre and Lipa does a great job walking us through the story. "Bueh" was Rabbi Kanieskis' coded blessing to him and the whole songs revolves around this strange word. Then Lipa switches to English, speaking about the Rebbe of Tosh, a very holy, elder Rabbi who has great difficulty speaking these days. So Lipa says he got a "Safek brocho", i.e. "Possibly a blessing" since it's difficult to hear what the Rebbe says. Then he goes to Yiddish. Great song - I don't get the ban. It's just an artist conveying his encounter with the sages - no harm done. Ok it's a modern arrangement, but the message is the same. *****

If you follow this blog you know about my love for Chazzanut, and adding it as Nakdishoch's intro worked flawlessly, and surprisingly since it was not an obvious choice. It really added a layer of authenticity to this song about one of the daily prayers' most important pieces, which can only be sung by with the Chazzan. The high part, Kudoish, is simplistic but the good percussion makes it fly. At 4:00 there's a very interesting bridge with the Chazzan singing the high part and Lipa doing a Yiddish "mantra", increasingly stronger, a là Lapidot in his Oif Simchas debut song but much better. Five star song *****

Vi Lang is the first slow song, Pop style, about the how long Exile has been. The mood and tempo really fit in the theme, a little sad and blue but nevertheless great to hear. Points for being eclectic and not sticking only to the trance style. Matt's vocals are even better in this setting than in Rap, in my opinion. *****

Hiskafia contrasts with the last song - I don't see a connection between the lyrics and the tune. It's a song about the paradox of standing up for your principles but also sometimes folding down. The song felt forced and without a clear direction - just random. Matt didn't really stand out this time. **

Eigel is another song centered in one word, eigel, the golden calf. At first it sounds strange - a song about the golden calf - but eventually Lipa's message comes across. Sometimes you have to stand alone for what's right, as Levi's tribe did then. Even the wisest sages went along with the Golden Calf then, illustrating how sometimes (or most times) the majority is wrong. In fact this song is how Lipa sees himself - as the Levi of the Chassidic community where he grew up. The song itself is not the best but it's more about the message. ****

Positive's intro is again the child, and this time it was surely unnecessary and too much of the shtick. It would be better to skip this part and also the later child solo altogether. This song is clearly inspired by Lady Gaga's Poker Face; perhaps Lipa is poking fun at those who call him the Jewish Lady Gaga? In any case, it's a really innovative and different song, whose strength is the interplay between "negativity" and "nega tzaraas". It's a very creative lyric play, since negativity is the core of Lashon Hara, which is punished by Nega Tzaraas. *****

Hunger talks about starving children, metaphorically. It's about not feeding the children with appropriate education and information, a prevalent problem in Lipa's community. A very intimate and honest plea, and the music reflects his message. Lipa's vocals were great and I loved the low computerized notes. ****

Hakol Tiruzim's style is very interesting, and I specially liked Lipa's opening solo - with an added middle eastern flavor, and after that every repeat with a different feel. Lipa manages to keep changing this song, and it remains interesting even tough it's not hard rock nor a proper slow song. It's a song that requires a subtle dreamy touch and Lipa delivered big time. Tough song ****

The Beat of my Heart is another honest and upfront song about being Jewish, and the lyrics perhaps trying to be Matisyahu-ish. I applaud the effort and the quality of this song, but it's less interesting the other songs. But the ending was superb - Lipa is using more and more his low notes and it works well. ***

Ben Faiga was the song chosen for the album's video clip and is the most catchy song of the album. This song was sung by Lipa by the wedding of the composer,
Meir, and Lipa got so connected to the song that he took it under his wing. The result is a simple, catchy Breslov-themed song that is easy to sing and dance with. It's a real wedding hit, full of energy and the message is really what Lipa is all about - happiness. And the ending was again superb - just Lipa screaming "Nachman" until he is out of breath, Lipa a typical Breslov chassid. Amazing *****

95% of all JM albums would be over and finished at the count of 12, but Lipa still has a few songs under his sleeve and Pshevorske is next. I dont think it brings anything new to the table, and it less innovative than the other songs. **

Haikar Hakavana is, in the other hand, an original song. It illustrates how a singer like Lipa is asked time and time to "sing something yeshivish because the Rosh Yeshiva is here" and how people keep giving bad comments until he complies, finally singing a tasteful niggun. But the niggun eventually becomes a dance song, prompting people to ask him to turn back to Chassidic style. It's a song about the fine line between what genre is accepted and what is not; what the Rabbi's would approve and what they would find insulting; and about how people try everything not to create a problem by singing the wrong song at the wrong occasion. The song is not ground breaking but the message and the delivery is superb. ****

Next two songs are Hebrew versions of earlier songs that were sung mainly in Lipa's preferred Yiddish language. It shows how Lipa is really trying to break out from the Yiddish-speaking public and veer more towards all listeners of Jewish Music. And indeed, he has fans across the spectrum today. 

This is probably my longest review but it's long for a reason; this is an album full of topics to talk about. There's the music, the lyrics, the trance, the chazzanus, the stories and of course, the controversies. What stands out is that every song has a concept, and a beggining/middle/end, bridges and also a little shtick here and there to keep things interesting. 

Lipa has clearly evolved to become a real artist, who is not trying to fit in; he is trying to make soemthing worth listening to. His transformation took quite some time, but it seems to me that he is at his best in this album. Which makes me wonder if he will be stable and strong enough not to end like Matisyahu - another great talent that from day to night changed direction and lifestyle. Lipa changed a lot, for the better, and I surely hope he keeps in his good direction. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Lipa's Ben Feige

Lipa's new video is out, and along with it all the usual excitement and also some controversy. Lipa is hardly the first Jewish singer exploring Trance music - even MBD used electronic music in many of his later songs but Lipa is openly championing the use of different sounds in JM. And he is right.

Ben Feige is a very catchy song but I didn't think the arrangement was so groundbreaking. In fact, I find it falls short and fails to bring the best out of this song. But it's surely a great song and probably an easy hit song.

If I can give constructive criticism for Lipa, I think it's time he takes dancing lessons. He loves to make music videos and he loves to dance, but if he really wants to bring these videos to an unexplored territory, he needs to take dancing seriously, because he is quite weak at it. And there's nothing unJewish about dancing. I'm sure choreographers can create an appropriate setup for a Jewish song and make these videos a real hit.

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.

Rabbis of the Talmud: New Album with a mix of human and AI vocals!

Rabbis of the Talmud is a new project bringing you new music with the aid of cutting-edge technology. There is AI and human vocals, creating...