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)

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