Saturday, December 27, 2008

YK's Picks

Blogger: YK
Blog: YK's Jewish Music Forum

Best Album: 8th Note (Yossi Green)
Best Song: Anovim (8th Note)
Best Debut Singer: Yitzy Spinner
Best Arrangement: Sefor (8th Note)
Worst Song: Hesech Hadas (Avraham Fried)

Full Disclosure:
"I will be really concise, I don't want to take too much of your time.

Best Album - Yossi Green was a living legend but there was something missing in his career - an album like the 8th Note. True, he had put out Shades of Green but we needed to hear something novel, cool and modern from him and he delivered. Gabay is also up there but the 8th Note is more significant, if you look at the big picture.

Best Song - Anovim is the natural choice, since this year was the first time this song came out with a proper arrangement and recording. Singable, great lyrics, great vocals and great arrangement. What else can we ask for?

Best Debut Singer - In my opinion 2008 has provided us with one of the best harvests of new singers of the past 5, 6 years. Not in terms of quantity but in regards to quality. Spinner stands out because he is a pro and boy, we need more real pros in JM. Great composer, arranger and singer, but above all, just a great musician.
However I would like to make a special mention to a singer of a completely different segment of JM - Shuli Rand. He has one skill that is very very scarce in Jewish Music today - lyrics. He is a brilliant lyricist and that's something Spinner doesn't have at all - Spinner gets songs from Chazal and the only English song of his album is running for this year's worst song. True, the trend is still to dig in Chazal for new lyrics and that's what sells but I strongly believe we will eventually shift to more original lyrics, not Chazal verbatim but novel lyrics based on the words of Chazal. In that regard Shuli Rand is ahead of everyone, by far.

Best Arrangement - Sefor, because it's fresh, original and just really cool.

Worst Song - Of course, Avraham Fried had to sing the Mashiach song in the 8th Note. Boring and pointless song, and I would expect much more from one of the alleged top singers in JM - a top singer would steal the show in the 8th Note. Again, a great singer cannot hit the same key every time. Explore new worlds, sing about different things and most importantly, be original.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dreidel - Rap Version

This is a video from Erran Baron Cohen, the brother of Borat, who just released a new album of Hanukka songs.
There are previews of the songs in his website. I specially liked Maoz Tzur, which sounds like America's National Anthem in Cohen's version (Kol Isha). I never heard of him, so I found this NYMagazine interview very interesting.
(Hat tip to BlogInDm)

Boruch Levine and Ami Eller

Queens College concert last week.
Ami Eller is a young talent from Mo Kiss's Kol Noar Boys Choir. He was also the soloist in Shea Rubenstein's debut album, which I hope to review in the near future. (tks JoeFlix)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Introducing...Kol Ish!

Kol Ish is a “college acapella” group from University of Maryland and they’ve just released their debut album. I love acapella and since nonw of the acapella groups out there have a true “college acapella” style, I was looking forward for this album and decided to review it.

The group's name, Kol Ish is apparently a play with Kol Isha, and they probably mean that this is as good as Kol Isha. Or something like that. That would be similar to AKAPella's marketing campaign - "so good it should be ossur".
Overall the production is really simple, and the cover art reflects that too. But I actually liked the retro design of the actual CD. Let's go to the real stuff:

Mi Adir is apparently an “adaptation” from a Coldplay song (can’t pinpoint) and right from the start you will see how well Kol Ish’s voices mesh together. Very smooth and pleasant, I prefer this kind of opening song for an Acapella album rather than a computer-generated song (AKAPella did that in their albums). The song however doesn’t builds up and remains in the same gear throughout the 4 mins – I would expect a little more improvisation. Also, the lyrics were not spelled so well in 0:30 and 0:42 – instead of Mi Adir AL Hakol, it sounds like they only said Mi Adir Hakol (no AL). ***

From the very first time I heard this CD, Haazinu stood up from all other songs. It’s exactly what I like in an Acapella setting – originality, good vocal arrangements and great vocals. The tune is very catchy and unique – you don’t have the traditional high part and low part scheme but three parts that are very different from each other. The middle part is a “niggun” that is used as a bridge – a nice idea that is also used in a later song in this album (Va’alu). The lyrics are also original, from Parshas Haazinu and this song does builds up quite well. *****

Kah Ribon is a song I love, originally featured in Ari Goldwag’s debut album. It’s a fun song to sing for acapella – great tune and easy harmonies – so this was a clever choice of song. I would've used auto-tune in the beginning of the song, but overall the vocals are good in this song. The dissonant chord in the end is cool, I’m guessing they took this idea from Mike Boxer who did the same in Bilvovi, featured in his last album. ****

Who has the patience for Meheira? It’s an old hit, it was oversung everywhere and therefore this song was a poor choice. Kol Ish didn’t do anything new or original here, so this song has no appeal for me. **

Adon Olam is a new song and it’s not bad, but not good either - something in between. Not much to be said here, this is an old-style Acapella. ***

Vehoair is one of my all-time favorites from Yehuda! and another great song for Acapella. The harmonies in 1:54 are fantastic and although this is very much like the original version, there’s a lot to like here. ***

Great piece of typical Acapella harmonies in the opening of Hodo – Kol Ish is clearly aiming for that traditional “College Acapella” style we all know. But this song is much better than the other fast song, Adon Olam, and there’s a lot of cool shticks in this one. The song is kind of weird, but it’s a perfect song to cheer this album a bit. ***

Va’alu is quite boring and not really exciting. **

The vocal in Gam Ki Elech are spotless and Kol Ish’s vibe is certainly in these mellow songs. ****

Yehi – great closing song but the digital effects are a disaster- waaaay to much distortion and too unprofessional, and it basically ruined this great song. If done right, this song could’ve been the best of the album. **

Conclusion: Kol Ish has a lot of potential, that’s very clear. The production is the simplest possible and with a better musical team Kol Ish could’ve have produced a masterpiece – their original songs are very good and they form a very solid acapella group. It’s a very decent debut album but they have a lot of home-work to do – better production next time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Joel's Picks

Briefing: I don't know much about Joel, aside from his signature fiery comments in this and other blogs. He has a guest post about Yishai Lapidot's latest album here and we once had a fun top-ten challenge against each other, but Joel is not a blogger; he is a JM fan who asked to share his picks, and to those of you who think the bloggers are not choosing well, Joel will surely go in another direction.

Best Album: Omar Dovid (Dovid Gabay)
Best Song: Don Don (Gabay)
Best Debut Singer: Yitzy Spinner
Best Arrangement: Birchos Avicha (Razel)
Worst Song: Return Again (Yeedle)
Best Producer (?): Avi Newmark

Full Disclosure:
"For the record my name is Joel. If you want to know my last name I'll tell you i just dont want it coming up on google. I am an out of towner, and I don't know anyone in the business other than Dov from Blue Fringe. I'm not really sure what makes me qualified to rate any album, but I could say that about every other expert here as well.

Best Album:
The choices are Green's 8th Note, Yeedle's Lev Echad, Gabay's Omar Dovid and Lipa's A Poshiter Yid. A standout album has premier vocals, compositions, and arrangements. Green's album features his vocals too much bringing down the quality of the performance. He is like the old man in shul who loves to daven....but can't. Yeedle's album is solid in all three areas, but doesn't stand out. Lipa's album is awesome, and he is clearly the number one performer in Jewish music. The only slight problem I had with it was his slow slongs were really filler and he doesn't really do english songs well. That leaves Omar Dovid which in my humble opinion is the gold standard for all albums in Jewish music. It has expanded the scope of mainstream Jewish Music production. Gabay's vocals are at the top of the heap along with Avraham Fried. The compositions of Elimelech Blumstein and others, were original and breathtaking. The arrangements of Yonatan Razel, Yisroel Lamm ( who knew he could pull this off ), Leib Yaakov Rigler and others were really off the charts. The production under Avi Newmark created the opus that all other albums should be compared.

Best Song:
The options are: Omar Dovid (Gabay), Anovim (Yossi Green) , Mekimi (Yeedle), Yener (Lipa Schmeltzer), Birchos Avicha (Gabay), Hameshorer (Shuli Rand)
The Choices are all solid, Omar Dovid and Birchos Avicha are two of the best slow songs I have heard in a while. Anovim is an overrated reused song from MBD's Priority One Show. Green, like I said before, does a duet with MBD killing the vocals. He should have given himself a stanza here and there like Shmuel Brazil did on his recent albums, not taken 60% of the vocals for himself. I am going to choose my favorite song from Omar Dovid which is Don Don. A piercing rock tune, Don Don hits the mark. The arrangement is top notch subtly adding the organ and solo violin. Its a rock song, but not overdone Gerstner style.

Best arrangement:
The options are Sefor (Tyberg - 8th Note), Birchos Avicha (Razel- Omar Dovid), Mi Sheshiken (Spinner - Remix), Poshiter Yid (Hershkowitz - P. Yid), Hevei Shakud (Amar - Am Echad), Return Again (Razel - Lev Echad), Lecho Dodi (S. Fird - Bayis Nemon), Yofyafisa (Tichon - Shalsheles IV), Don Don (Newmark - Omar Dovid)
These again are all solid again, but I am going to choose Birchos Avicha (Gabay) arranged by Yonatan Razel. All the praise I gave Gabay's album pertains to this song. The composition is original and the arragement is wide ranged and deep. I cant think of many songs that uses sixteen violinists, four violaists and four celloists. Razel proves bigger is better. This song takes it up a notch.

Best Producer:
I made this category up but the only two I think deserve recognition are Yossi Tyberg and Avi Newmark. With these two people forget quickly about Sheya Mendlowitz and Suki and Ding. Yossi T and Newmark and taking JM to new heights. I guess you can call them the Rick Rubin and Brain Eno of JM.

Worst Song:
I didn't like any of YK's choices, and I thought Neeroh by Stein was a solid song. Why all the Dovid Stein haters? Yes, his arrangements are below average, and sound exactly like Chevra 3, but I think he is only guilty of hiring a bad producer. His album, I found to be a decent listen. My choice for worst song is Return Again by Yeedle but really by Reb Shlomo. The reason I chose the song is not because it was bad, but because of overkill. I checked my Itunes library and It seems that The Moshav Band, Omek Hadavar and Yehuda Green just recently covered the song. Im sure others have as well. The song is even the title track on The Moshav Band and Yehuda Green's album. As we know from Niggun Neshama and every Nickelback song overplay can ruin a song. If you are going to cover a song dont do one that everyone else has done as well.

Best Debut:
It seems like Amar has many fans on this site, but I was not impressed. I think his songs were average, and the Axel Foley ripoff was in poor taste. His voice is also mediocre. The other guys don't merit a mention. The man among boys in this category is Yitzy Spinner. He's almost a veteran in the JM scene from his Miami Boys Choir days. How can you not be impressed by a chap who not just sings, but also composes all his songs, plays many of the instruments, and arranges his own tracks. His Avi Newmark produced effort is outstanding.
Thanks YK for the opportunity, and thank you for reading.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chaim Rubin's Picks

Blogger: Chaim Rubin
Briefing: One of the pioneers of the Jewish blogosphere, Chaim runs the most respected Jewish Music blog in the web. There you will find balanced reviews, interesting interviews, news about concerts, samplers and occasionally some politics as well. No serious JM bloggers initiative could go forward without him and I'm glad he is on-board with us in this one.
Best Album: 8th Note (Yossi Green)
Best Song: Anovim (8th Note)
Best Debut Singer: Yisroel Werdyger
Best Arrangement: Mi Sheshiken (Remix)
Worst Song: Neero (Dovid Stein)

Full Disclosure (original post is to be found here):
"YK of YK’s Jewish Music Forum started an impromptu unofficial Jewish Music Awards. A bunch of us Music bloggers are working on this so that next year it’s much more official and many more categories are added. For this year, it is what it is, and it’s also important to remember it’s all in good fun.

Here are my picks based on the choices YK has in his listings. Again, there were no nominations and this was done on the fly, I would have added others, and I’ll try to reflect that in my comments here.


The choices are: Benny Amar, Shuli Rand, Yitzy Spinner, Yossi Gurvitz & Yossi Mayer.

I did not listen to Shuli Rand’s CD, and I only listened to Yossi Mayer a little bit. I heard Yossi Gurvitz’s album but didn’t find any of the things really memorable (except one.)

My choice for best new singer of 2008 of everything, not including what is on this list, is Yisroel Werdyger. My second choice, and first choice from this list is Yitzy Spinner. I really enjoyed what he did vocally and the refreshing nature of his album. He has years of experience so it’s hard to really call him a “new” singer, but he did have a debut album so that works fine for me.


The choices are: Omar Dovid (Gabay), Anovim (Yossi Green) , Mekimi (Yeedle), Yener (Lipa Schmeltzer), Birchos Avicha (Gabay), Hameshorer (Shuli Rand)

I didn’t hear Shuli Rand’s CD but YK obviously did and really liked it, I’ll have to pick it up.

Let’s start with Gabay. If there was an award for best breakout singer of the year I’d give that award to Dovid Gabay. It’s hard for artists to have a solid second cd, and almost impossible for them to top the first one. He did that in spades, Gabay 2 makes Gabay 1 seem like a distant memory.That being said, while I loved Omar Dovid, I actually liked Birchos Avicha better and I actually like Nagilah as one of the best on that CD. (Which YK puts in the worst song category, more on that later.)

There are so many great songs on Yeedles CD, Mikimi is one, but there are many amazing songs. I think the title track is the best song on that album, so again, I can’t vote for Mikimi for best song.

Lipa’s Yener is a fantastic song, maybe I would have given it runner up except for The 8th Note’s Anovim.

I guess that makes it obvious, Anovim is not a song that comes around once a year. Anovim will go down in history as a song like Tanya or Aderaba. It’s a beautiful song, and if we were doing an award for best songs of the decade I’d even give it that award. Anovim all the way, not even a choice.


Sefor (Tyberg - 8th Note), Birchos Avicha (Razel- Omar Dovid), Mi Sheshiken (Spinner - Remix), Poshiter Yid (Hershkowitz - P. Yid), Hevei Shakud (Amar - Am Echad), Return Again (Razel - Lev Echad), Lecho Dodi (S. Fird - Bayis Nemon), Yofyafisa (Tichon - Shalsheles IV), Don Don (Newmark - Omar Dovid)

This is a really hard category because there have been some great arrangements this past year. I think Sefor and Mi Sheshiken are both very freshly arranged songs, but in very different ways. sefor loses points for being based on an existing song and style (Idan Raichel.) Don Don is a good arrangement, but in the same style we are sued to in Jewish Music. Call it, the best of what we know, while Sefor is the best of what we don’t know. That’s why I am giving it to Yitzy Spinner, because his is the best as far as fresh and original goes.

Hesech Hadas (Fried - 8th Note), You and I (Spinner), Vezakeni (Yossi Mayer),
Torah Shebiksav (Lipa), Neero (Dovid Stein), Ani Oheiv (Daskal), Sholom (Levine), Naguila (Gabay), Horiyu (Yeedle)

I’m not going to go into detail here, because the whole category is kinda harsh, but if you want to hear the praise, sometimes you gotta hear the bad stuff too.

I don’t know what you and i is doing on this list, I didnt think it was the best song of the year, but I don’t think it’s the worst either. Same goes for Nagila, in fact Nagila I actually love, so I’m even more clueless. Horiyu, Hesach Hadaas and Torah Shebiksav are not bad songs, they are just very boring unoriginal songs. These are the songs we would expect ten years ago. Not now, not in the age of Anovim, Amhalel, Birchos Avicha, V’Zakeini, Yener etc …

My choice for worst song is also my choice for most disappointing of the year. Dovid’s Stein’s Neero. I’m really sorry, but in a year where we had stunning new styles, new arrangements, new collaborations and comebacks from legends like Yossi Green (Anovim.) We all expected a much better CD that what we got from Dovid Stein (and Shloime Daskal for that matter.)

The bar has been raised and people can’t get away with phoning it in, or going with the easy commercial wedding norm."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

JoeFlix's Picks

Blogger: JoeFlix
Blog: JoeFlix Daily
Briefing: Realizing that the JM blogosphere was missing a good Jewish photoblog, Joe started blogging just last march, with striking success. He also wrote several solid JM reviews and quickly became a respected blogger.

Best Album: Omar Dovid (Gabay)
Best Song: "Tie between Yener (Lipa) and Birchos Avicha (Gabay)"
Best Debut Singer: Yitzy Spinner
Best Arrangement: Don Don (Gabay)
Worst Song: "They are all winners"

Full Disclosure:
"Hello all. My name is Joe of the Joeflix photo blog.

First a quick disclaimer thingy: we are trying to select a winner, so in a competiton a lot of the best against the best, some will lose and look bad, even though by themselves they can be great! (For example Yeedle Vs Yeedle/Lipa/Yossi Green and Gabay) This is the olympics, and nobody would blame Phelps had he lost.

Now, before going to the 2008 nominees, let us not forget that 2006/7 was a great season for jewish music: MBD Efsher Letaken, Lipa's Hallel, Shwekey MaMaMa, Fried Bein Kach, Lapidot- Mangina Shelachem, Gertner (!), and Yehuda Green.

Now to 2008 - and I'll stick with the nominess in my vote

Best album:

Lev echad falls out for obviusoly falling very far behind Yeedle 4. The neatness might have worked against itself here, going from neat, to plain.

8th note: some in the blogesphere are bananas over the album, but let me just paraphrase what I emailed to somone last friday

[Loved (!!) Leyhudim, Kanei, and Sfor. Anovim is okay. Beshivtecho, Hesech, Siman tov, Lama, Naasse, 8th note (both), Veoz, and Yossel are average songs at best

As I said, the excitement was on level 15 (out of 10) and the album as a whole was 'only' a 10 in terms of sound and arrangements -n other words, perfect) but from a Yossi Green album you expect great SONGS - he's a composer, duh

Now again, most albums (even contemporary) have only a few hits but from Yossi we expected better. Lipa last album (PY) - for example- has 10 (out of 13) very good songs, and the big YG (and I don't mean that with sarcasm) has 4 or 5 out of 13. Gimme a break! Also, Lipa explored different styles of composition on Keneinehora so he's not that far behind in terms of being king of Jewish song! ]

For the next album, Yossi would be advised to take a few songs from Elimeliech Blumestien, Lipa and Pinky Webber

Now, Lipa vs Gabay: Both have a whole bunch of amazing songs (while Lipa wins there) and exquisite arrangements, so its almost a tie but I think it goes to Gabay, Becuase -

While I don't know too much about music, somehow I found myself enjoying Gabay's album too much, its was just so delicious and digestibale. It took me a while to realize that besides the songs, the most amazing part about it is the sound and the mix and the engineering. (And this is EXACTLY what's wrong with Lipa's album)

Then I found out how many extra miles the Newmark/ Ian Freitor team went to make this sound good, including some, ahem, unprecedented things. They did a lot of expensive, extra-credit stuff and they were not cheap

And I should add that the album is one of the top sellers on JM to date, so their work also paid off nicely - so good for you guys!

And BTW, I think that Gabay is the best voice in JM nowadays. Anybody disagrees?

[PS: Yitzy Spinner's Y&i wouldve taken 3rd place, and Sruly Werdyger came out late in 5768, but should be a nominee next year]

Best Song:

Again, 6 amazing songs but were forced to choose

Anovim falls out for emptiness, Kanei from the same album, beats it many times over.

Mekimi, again, sounds very empty after a few listens.

Omar Dovid is a great song, but the fast "tov li" part isn't all that great and feels loose on top of the emotinal first part.

The winner is a tie between Yener and Birchos Ovicho, although Yener is more original both as a song and a concept.

[Didn't buy Shuli Rands album - yet]

Best New Singer:

Didn't listen to Rand or Gurvitz

Amar is not up there with Mayer and Spinner, and the fact that he got so many votes is, ahem, funny. Very funny.

Mayer and Spinner?

Mayer has a very good album, which I still enjoy listening to. He sings very well and I can't wait for his next project, maybe with even better sound (Great great choirs on the album BTW, Moishy Kraus!)

Spinner is in a different League alltogether.

Spinner got himself a good part of the next wave of JM. Besides his amazing sweet/steely singing, the guy is a serious music powerhouse. He writes his own music, arranges beautifully with chords that make youir ears come off and plays a couple of instruments, and he just knows the whole mumbo-jumbo of music like nobody else. He's a breath of fresh air to the scene.

(He's also working on a couple of upcoming projects as a composer and arranger and choir arranger. Stay tuned)

The only drawback to his so-original style is that he doesn't have one "normal" song that you can hum while walking down a hallway. Its just great listening music. As Yitzy told me, and I quote " Let's face it, Vanilla is great - but how many people choose vanilla when they have other options??"

I was totally surprised that his album sold as well as it did and I'm happy about it.

Best arranged song:

Now Hevey Shakud its NOT

(although I have to give Shmuli Rosenberg credit for Very Good rythm and drums on the whole album)

[BTW I hear that amar's fans organized a mass-voting thing here on YK. Otherwise how do you explain the siproportion in the votes here, both in best singer and best arranged song?? This is very cheap, and frankly I hate it]

While all these songs are very very good (I nominated them, duh) Gabay's DonDon stands out - maybe cause it 'sounds' the best, but anyway.

Yisroel Lamm delivered an arrangement that makes you woner where he was the last 20 years. He should be very proud of this great, diverse arrangement (where did you learn to put violin (3.30) on a rock song? Wow!) , as well as Blumestein of the song - its so rich, and what original lyrics!!

Gabay sounds soooo good on this song and Moshe Roth should get a medal for the choirs

PS - some very big name in JM told me he favors Gabay's Zaroh (arranged by Rigler) over DonDon. I disagree strongly. Very strongly

The runner-up is a tie between YG's Sefor and Sruly Werdygers Lecho Dodi

Worst song:

They're all winners. They are all songs that didn't fit on an album. One might argue that its relative, that Yossi Mayer wouldve killed to get Gabay's fillers - but it doesn't matter.

The worst offender here is Yossi Green on 8th note - which everyone I spoke to points out a different set of 3 or 4 songs they think are just stupid, followed closely by Eli Gerstner who made avery bad album for somone who does not deserve to be shamed here, which is basically one big messed up package.

That's all folks

2009 should be a good year for JM with about 20 projects in the works, and I'm looking ofrward to review the top few

YK - thank you again for hosting this. I wish you all the best"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2008 JM Awards: Gruntig's Picks

Blogger: Lucky Wolf
Blog: Gruntig
Briefing: Lucky Wolf runs the most complete JM video blog on the web, with over 2500 posts followed closely by hundreds of JM fans.

Best Album: Lev Echad (Yeedle)
Best Song: Vani Ashir (Yeedle)
Best Debut Singer: Yisroel Werdyger
Best Arrangement: Poshiter Yid (Lipa)
Worst Song: Hesech Hadaas (Avraham Fried)

Full Disclosure:
"Best Album of 2008

At first I thought perhaps Yossi Green’s 8th note would be the best of 08. But then we got to listen to Lipa and then after much anticipation Yeedle V was released. The 8th note, although many seem to appreciate it, for me besides for a few good songs; it just doesn’t do it. A Poshiter Yid was a huge hit, but after a while I got a little bored of it. Don’t get me wrong, i still think it’s a great album but I lost some of the hype I originally had for it when it was still fresh. There is one album however that I still have the same excitement today as I did when it was first released; I enjoy, over the rest by far, Yeedle V. It was never the rock n role style album like A Poshiter Yid was meant to be and is, but it’s just simply a pleasure to listen to. If I hade to take a cross country road trip, Yeedle 5 would be my first on my list.

Best Song of 2008

Yeedle’s Vani Ashir is a song I could hear over and over again and each time it puts me right into that rhythm. Tremendous song! If you happen to disagree and think nothing much of it, then do me a favor, listen to it a few times over and over and see where it take you.

Best Debut Singer of 2008

This award I would have to give to Yisroel Werdyger. For his voice, his songs and especially for his style.

What is even more important then a good voice is good singing, the way one sings, the way one carries a tune. Or another way to look at it, what would you rather not be forced to listen to, a bad voice or someone who is way off tune?! What made MBD king of Jewish music was not just his voice (which happened to be awesome) but the way he sang. Yisroel has shown that in this album, he can sing.

For his songs, I find this album having some beautiful songs. Emor, Yisroel Beyachad, (although those two seem to be somewhat similar), Shuvu Bonim and Besimcha Raba to name a few, are my favorite. And besides for the beautiful songs, they all have a certain pleasantness and sweetness to them.

And for his voice, Yisroel’s voice is beautiful but even more importantly his voice is unique, almost seems to be a mixture of his father Mendy and his uncle MBD.

Best Arrangement of 2008

Lipa’s Poshiter Yid (the track that is). Mainly because I feel that if you take away the great arrangements of this song or if this song would have been given over to a different singer with different arrangements, the song would be a disaster. So although it may not be my favorite song I still feel it’s the arrangement that make it what it is.

Worst Song of 2008

This is a tough one. You see, there are so many albums where I could easily find the worst song but then feel that I cannot award them this because I never though they would be any good in the first place. Heck I could make up a song right now and then vote it for worst song. I’m sure you would too if you heard it! So I figures this “Award” should go to an album which is great and to a singer who is great but where the song just didn’t make it. Perhaps naming this category from “Worst Song of 08 ” to “Biggest Disappointment of 2008”. Thus allowing me to give the award to The 8th Note’s Hesech Hadaas. Being that is was composed by Yossi Green and sung by Avraham Fried in an album with various singers; in my opinion there was no bigger disappointment this year."

JM Awards: Bloggers Picks

I will be posting the bloggers' picks in the coming weeks, coinciding with the closing of the polls in Dec 31st.
In order to do it in an organized way, I will breakdown the info and I will post each bloggers' picks every five days - this way everyone will be at the spotlight and it will be easier to discuss it properly.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Comments on the New Music Videos

Three singers have released songs dedicated to the Holtzberg's - Yossi Green, Shea Rubenstein and Yaakov Young. These are very nice gestures and I'm sure others will dedicate even more songs.

Just my impressions:

Yossi Green's song is very moving, but clearly not a hit. It reminds me very much classic Ani Maamin, composed in the concentration camps of WW2 - it's long, "tense" and has appropriate words. And what's even nicer, YG did all this in the past week and already released the video, which is unusual. He basically just got there, composed it, got Ohad and did it, so it's unfair to criticize.

It's the first time I hear Shea and I love his sweet voice. He is always in tune and it seems to me that auto-tune was used, but very slightly and appropriately. It's almost impossible to make an interesting music video that lasts for 6+ minutes so it does gets too long - a common JM issue. But it's a great song and I look forward to getting his album.

Yaakov Young's Nachem is a song I like - see my review of Young's album.

I will be out for the next two weeks, so I wish you all a Happy Hanuka.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Round Up

- Chaim Rubin posted his Jewish Music Awards picks, you can see it and discuss here.

- Sameach released the cover and sample of Six13's new album, Yesh Chadash (might be a play with the saying "Ein Kol Chadash Tachat Hashamesh").

- Amiran Dvir, who played at my wedding, released one of the songs of his upcoming album, Shvil Hachupa. It's composed by Yossi Green, lyrics by Amiran himself. I'm a little disappointed with this song, I feel like Amiran wasn't in his best shape when he recorded it and the song itself is a bit "flat". Click below and have your say.

- BBC produced a nice photocast about Yiddish music with some great antique pictures and interesting insights. See it here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Our hearts are with the victims of the brutal attacks in Mumbai and it's trivial to talk about anything else in the aftermath of this tragedy. Although I had a lot to write about, I will not be posting any JM stuff in the few days - we can't leave this event pass unnoticed. We must look deep inside ourselves and find ways to save this world from ruin.

We all know the great work the Chabad shluchim do across the world and the attack in the Chabad House is unprecendented.
I hope they continue their mission and as the Rebbe once said: "By your continued building you will be recomforted".

I followed Shmais and LifeofRubin and changed the header of this blog, it's the least I can do.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

EXCLUSIVE #4: Carlebach Yartzeit Concert 2008 - Part 1

In addition to my three other exclusive videos(1, 2, 3), I put together this recording of the best moments of the Carlebach Concert which took place three days ago, Motze Shabbos, in Binyanei Hauma.

All in all, this concert was good. Not amazing, but it was good.
As many as 10 musicians played through the night and one thing became very clear - there were two groups.
The first is comprised by the Carlebach wannabes, who dress, speak, sing and wink like Carlebach. These guys were boring and even a bit pathetic since the last thing a musician should do is copy another one. By definition, if you copy someone you will be judged and eventually fall short of the original. And since the original person here is Reb Shlomo, it's even harder. Reb Shlomo had a very distinctive and dynamic personality, so the standard is really up there. The first few singers were from this group and I even felt like leaving the place.

The second group is comprised by singers who are inspired by Carlebach but still have their own vibe. Notable members are Shlomo Katz (amazing!), Chaim David and Aron Razel. Those guys rocked and gave me my money's worth.

The best moments of the concert were:
- The Havdala opening, sung by the Tzfat Carlebach Guy which I mentioned in an earlier post.
- Yehi Shalom, sung by the whole crowd in unison
- Shlomo Katz. This guy is really talented and although this is the first time I hear him live, he is will be huge. Already popular here in Israel, Katz (not to be confused with Eitan Katz, Yehuda Katz - so many Katzs..) is a great composer and performer. A pity he wasn't invited for the 8th Note :)
- And of course, the already famous Crazy Chassid Dancer.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Introducing.... Yood

Over the past years I've seen all sorts of new bands mushrooming in the US and Israel and each one tries to create a catchy name. So I wasn't expecting much when I heard about Yood, a rock band led by Eliezer (formerly Lloyd) Blumen but after reading about them in jpost, I must say he has a cool story.

This Chabad (I knew it!) baal tshuva used to be part of a successful 70's-style rock band before being invited to play with Reb Shlomo (btw, his Yartzeit was this past thursday). Unsurprisingly, this event changed his life and he eventually moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh. But now he is back in the rockers scene and is going mainstream. His band, Yood (named after the "smallest but most powerful letter of the Hebrew alphabet"), already went out on tours in a few colleges in the US and they are hoping to be Rock And Roll's new Matisyahu (sounds familiar, no?). They do have something in common with matis - a spin-off version of Tzomo Lecho Nafshi (see video below).

Here's the link to the great article to found in this weekend's Jerusalem Post.

And here's the link for their very cool website. Don't forget to "BY THE NEW CD" - funny typo in their site. Listen to a few songs in their myspace page.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

JM Awards - Another Update

It has been just one week of voting and we have a few good "battles". 8th Note and Poshiter Yid are head-to-head for the Best Album and the same can be said about the "Amar Vs. Mayer" battle in the Best Debut.

I've contacted the other JM bloggers, in an effort to make this awards not only my awards but everyone's. So far, JoeFlix, Chaim Rubin, Teruah and Sruly from Sameach have agreed to share their picks at the end of the vote so we can compare them to the public's choices.

Since these awards are not only mine - they are everyone's - I'm renaming them to "2008 Jewish Music Bloggers Awards", and this will hopefully be a positive step towards creating a yearly vote to be organized by all the JM bloggers.

Spread the word and stay tuned!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

2008 JM Awards - Update

All the categories have been posted, finally. Throughout the past two days I added two categories and it looks like it needs no change; all we have to do is sit and wait. We have two months, and that's plenty time. For the two new polls I used more input from the threads, so there are more options.

Meanwhile, I'm not really planning to post so much. So keep spreading the word and we will see what happens in two months. Most people don't check this blog more than once a month anyways, so it's pointless to jump to any conclusions just a day after the voting started.

As I said previously, I will be revealing my own picks and explanation after the close. I've invited Joeflix to reveal and explain his picks as well. I will soon go after the other JM bloggers to see if they are interested in taking part too, but I can't guarantee anyone else will agree to participate.

The categories are:
- Best Song of 2008
- Best Album of 2008
- Best Debut Singer of 2008
- Best Arrangement of 2008
- Worst Song of 2008

This last category was added because so many of us are sick of the traditional "fillers" that come by so often. 2008 should be the year of their extinction.

Spread the word!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

2008 Jewish Music Awards - Blogger Version

A few readers emailed me about Kol Chai's 2008 awards, most of them voicing disappointment over the restricted nature of this award.

You will probably not believe in me, but I was planning to introduce something I dubbed "YK's Awards" before the Rosh Hashana but I felt it was the right thing at the wrong time - music awards in Elul didn't sound good.

My plan was to hold a vote of the Best Album, Best Song, Best Debut Singer, Best Composer, Best Producer and Best Arranger. Now that Kol Chai preceded me in this idea, I feel like just starting it anyways before is too late - vote in the boxes located at the top-right of this blog. Additionally, this can be the blog version of Kol Chai's vote - more interactive and more flexible. I now realize that the vote for composer/producer/arranger might be too much, so I didn't include it this time.

The vote is open until 12/31/08 11:00 PM. That gives you two months to vote, and I think that's the optimal time for a poll like this. If a new meaningful album comes out, I will add to the list.

Alongside with the reader's choice I will choose my own favorites and explain my choices, after the voting process ends. Right from the start I can say that I will disagree with many of you, but that's the beauty of polls, specially when the polls are about such a subjective topic - music.

I'm open to suggestions and I can add other songs or singers. Please only vote once. Spread the word!

UPDATE: Blogger wont let me add more options once the vote has started. Since I my list is short, I propose the following solution: email me or post a comment if your choice is not in the list and I will do the math when the poll closes. This way no one is left out.

UPDATE2: I'm putting together a poll for the "Best Arrangement of 2008", that is, not necessarily the best song of the year but the most amazing arrangement. So many songs have special arrangements but are not fit to be the best song of a year. Please send to me or post your picks and I will start the award next week.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Shofar

Few articles I've read are so clear, organized and insightful as "Exotic Shofars", written by Rabbi Natan Slifkin, who's also a blogger.
Through his great articles and books, the ZooRabbi has the unique talent of introducing us to the marvels of nature and the animal kingdom and once again, he delivers with this article about a musical instrument we grew up listening to - the Shofar.

Speaking about the Shofar, my Shul's Baal Tokea had a great deal of trouble with the sequence of Tekiot on Rosh Hashana and he eventually was forced to call another guy to get the job done. And he got stuck in the second-to-last blow, just before the Tekiah Gedolah. Tough luck.

This wasn't the first time I witnessed this situation. Years back the same happened with a very good Baal Tokeah back in my homeland. In fact, virtually every Baal Tokea has more than a few mistakes here and there and often times he will start the Tekios in one tone and suddenly jump to another in a desperate quest for a decent sound. Does the Shofar has musical tones? Is it possible to play real music with it, with different tones and everything? I thought not, after all the Shofar is just one of these wild things no one can control. All the Baal Tokea can do is blow and hope for the best.

Well, I was wrong. Turns out to be that one man has mastered this wild instrument and found a way to play real music with it. Introducing Shlomo Gronich, an Israeli songwriter and singer who uses the Shofar in many of his songs, with amazing results. I don't think he is his Shuls' Baal Tokea, but it would surely be cool to hear the Tekios from a guy who actually knows the instrument inside out.

For the Chabad fans, you will surely enjoy Gronich's rendition of Keili Ato, with the Shofar:

In this other clip, skip to 1:33 to hear some other Shofar tricks of Gronich:

Ksiva Vechatima Tova

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shana Tova

I wish a great new year to all of you and may we have only simchas and good fortune this coming year.

I had the privilege of spending this past shabbos in Tzfat - last time I was there I was 10 or so years old. One of the highlights of the city is the famous Carlebach Shul, Beirav. I couldn't make my own recording of the Havadala, but I found this one in youtube.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Shema Yisrael - Church Version

I know I'm posting too many videos, but I couldn't let this one out.

In Portugal, children singing Shema Yisrael in a Baptist Church. If you're afraid this is a conspiracy against Jews since you can't understand the words of the Priest, it is not. He's actually saying a beautiful speech, praising the Jewish People and how the two religions must be tolerant with each other - that's why he taught them Shema Yisrael. Remarkable.

And even though I've lashed against boys choirs recently, this is actually the correct way of using child choirs - no out-of-range notes, just their pure voices without any screechiness. Perhaps we can learn a bit from them.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

EXCLUSIVE #3: Selichos with Naftali Hershtik and Eli Yaffe's Choir

This past Motze Shabbos The Jerusalem Great Synagogue held a special Selichos service that took over 2 hours, and the Shul was absolutely packed. Although I really hope this is not true, the rumor goes that Hershtik will be retiring after the High Holidays so this was no ordinary event. Hershtik is undisputedly one of the greatest Chazzanim the world has seen in the past three decades and although he hasn't become as popular as Helfgot, there's a lot to like about his voice. Experience, good nusach and pleasant voice timber are his biggest assets, not to mention his amazing falsettos.

In addition, Eli Yaffe did an amazing job directing the choir. He is second to none when it comes to vocal arrangements. Forget about the choirs you hear in Jewish Music albums - this is the real deal. The choir is pleasant, in tune and always surprising.

I will be posting more videos soon; in this one you can hear the opening song "Ashrei". There isn't anything out of this world in this clip, so those of you who think Chazzanus is boring will not be able to enjoy too much of it. But keep in mind that this is a Selichos service and as such it must be solemn and traditional, leaving little room for geshmack moves.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Gad Elbaz, a Star on the Rise

The Jerusalem Post has a very long article on Gad Elbaz, highlighting his major concert that took place recently in Ceasarea, one of the most posh theater's in Israel.

It's a good article and it gives you an inside look in Elbaz's music and career. I only heard a handful songs from him, but Elbaz is a Mizrachi singer who is trying to go more mainstream, with very modern clips and songs with a broad appeal. Here is one of his clips:

Elbaz was in the last Chabad Telethon, and after reading this article I understand why. The man behind his career is a Shlomo Fellig, a Chabad businessman from Florida, who finances and manages everything Elbaz does, and I guess he used his connections to bring Elbaz to the Telethon. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Chabadniks just rule JM, second to none, and Mendy Peilin, also Chabad has a clip of the song featured in the Telethon, Children's World.

Gad Elbaz has an excellent voice and range, somewhat similar to Ricky Martin in the way he sings and dances, and although he has a very distinctive Mizrachi singing style at times he sounds truly like a pop-star. Just if you are wondering, he is not Yeshivish at all (not even dressing in the JM's traditional black and white uniform) and doesn't consider himself to be a "Haredi" singer - he caters a completely different crowd (for this reason the thoughts of the "Guardians of Sanctity and Education", or the Jewish Taliban-like watchdogs, are not relevant).

In the other hand, this article exaggerates the role of Elbaz and idolizes him too much, portraying Elbaz like the savior of our fractured generation or something like that - I really suspect this article was "by request", if you know what I mean. It remains to be seen if he will really become a star - he is not yet. But I agree he is on the rise, that's for sure.

The Cesarea concert was a turning point in Elbaz's career. For the first time, one of Israel's coolest concert floors had a mehitza and the guest singers were top-seeded: my man Yishai Lapidot, Amiran Dvir, Ovadia Chamama, Shlomi Shabat and more. Don't miss this great video report below, featuring scenes of the concert and backstage action. I wish I had to gone to this concert, as I really want to know Elbaz's music a little better, and although the concert wasn't sold out - I guess Cesarea is a "bit out-of-town" - this concert was unique, proving that some JM singers can go more mainstream and put together modern and cool concerts.

Rudy Perez, who composed songs for Beyonce, Christina Aguilera and Julio and Enrico Inglesias, is now producing Elbaz's album, so we are talking about serious stuff here. And I'm really glad to see a JM singer doing cool clips, great concerts and of course, original and new music.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Quotes on the Music Ban

About the recent outrage over the Bnei brak-based Jewish Music "Police", two quotes:

"We might be able to adopt Bach or Beethoven, music with class, but not goyishe African music and beats. We haredim want to protect ourselves from what we see as negative foreign influences", Mordechai Bloi

"I implore the rabbinical leaders to ban Pizza and Sushi and all other similarly foreign foods from our menus. We are a holy people and we should therefore only digest Cholent and Gefilte fish. One minute. These foods also have foreign origins. Ok. Lets only permit water. No, water may have bugs. Uhm....any ideas?", Jason

This seems to be the old Jews-struggling-to-live-outside-of-the-guetto story. Bnei-brak is one of the last standing guettos of the world, and they will fight as hard as they can, but they will eventually be forced to find other ways to deal with the flat world. Thank G-d we have guys like Yossi Green, Lipa, Shuli Rand and Chaim Israel out there. Hang on guys!

In the Name of G-d

One of the Ten Commandments is the prohibition of saying G-d's name in vain, and after watching this video (see 1:48, whe they say E-L) I realized there are two approaches to this prohibition when it comes to music. All Yeshivish singers I know refrain from mentioning the Shem Hash-m, using the permissible "Hash-m" instead. That includes Shwekey, Lipa, MBD and so on.

On the other hand, many Israeli singers - Chaim Israel and Gad Elbaz for example - sing the Shem Hash-m frequently in their hit songs and I'm wondering what is the Halachic approach to this.

The same thing happens when people sing Shabbos Zemiros. Some are very careful not to mention the Shem when singing Tzur Mishelo or Kol Mekadesh for example, while others say the Shem Hash-m without any hesitation. Is there a difference between singing Zemiros with Shem Hash-m or singing modern-day songs with the Shem?

In my mind, there's no difference since Zemiros are no different than songs we sing today. Many of the composers of common zemiros were just good poets and not necessarily Rabbis. According to this, there's no difference between the songs of Donash Ibn Lavrat, composer of Dror Yikra, and Chaim Israel when it comes to saying the Shem Hashm.

If you look in the Zemiros it's often clear that the poets had in mind the actual Shem Hash-m, and not the substitute "Hashem". Let me bring a famous example:

צור משלו אכלנו ברכו אמוני
שבענו והותרנו כדבר יי

The rhyme אמוני/ יי only works if one mention's the actual Shem Hashm in this song. If you just read יי as being "Hash-m" the rhyme falls apart. So it's clear this song was always sung with the actual Shem Hashm.

But this is not a good Halachic point because maybe the poet was just wrong. I don't even know if he was a Rabbi. Whoever has an answer, please speak up!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


* 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.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gone Fishing

I'm heading to Europe and will be away from blogging until the end of August. I registered for Nefesh BeNefesh's bloggers conference here in Jerusalem but I'm still unsure if I will be able to make it. If I make it, I will post videos and pics about it.

Also, I will be posting a review of Shuli Rand's Good Point when I come back. And Yeedle's album should be out by then and I will be reviewing it as well. See you then!

For the Lipa Lovers

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jewish Music, Poetry and the Three Weeks

Blogging about Jewish Music during the two times of the year we are not allowed to hear music is very challenging. Even more so than Sefiras Haomer, this is specially true now that we are coming close to Tisha Beav, the saddest day of our calendar, and bloggers deal with this in their own way. Some go out for vacations, some write about older acapella albums (no new albums came out this time, as far as I know) and I decided to go for something more exotic - I got into Ben Bresky's poetry initiative in his radio show. You can hear my piece here (click in "Listen Now" and skip to 35:34).

You must be asking yourself who in the world would be interested in poetry these days and that's kind of understandable. Last time I wrote poems was in school, years back, and this poem is actually old - I originally wrote it a few years ago because I wanted to understand's business concept after meeting its founder. So, it's not like I write poems everyday. Okay. But how is this connected to Tisha Beav?

In case you didn't realize, Tisha Beav is all about poems - that's what the Kinos are, poems. In fact, we all spend two or three hours reciting the (numerous) poems and most people don't even understand what's going on, aside from the implicit connection to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. Poetry was one of the tenets of Judaism in the Spanish Golden Age and poets would be sponsored on a yearly basis to write poetry about Judaism, history and also love stories. That's why most of our Zemiros come from that time - Zemiros are also poems, written by real poets who were very knowledgeable about Judaism or even famous Rabbis like Elazar Hakalir, the most prolific of them all, and Ibn Ezra (you read some of his poems here).

Now, Jewish Music and poetry are also intrinsically connected. Although the vast majority of JM lyrics today are taken from the Tanach and Chazal, Jewish musicians of the past would focus in composing music for their own original lyrics. Adon Olam, Lecha Dodi and Yedid Nefesh are good examples of popular "liturgical poems" that are commonly used as song lyrics. Taking lyrics from the Torah and Chazal is halachically problematic and many religious musicians refrained from doing it until the past century. Only recently JM has become flooded with Torah and Chazal lyrics, most probably because of Reb Shlomo Carlebach's influence - JM of today is a brainchild of Reb Shlomo, who would always find touching lyrics in the Torah and Chazal.

But even today most of the Sephardic songs, called "Pizmonim", are solely based in poems. Back in Syria and Lebanon, the poets were celebrated and well-respected as a noble and noteworthy class, and if you look into their songs is possible to learn a lot about their "Avoda" and life back in the Arab countries.

It's getting harder and harder for JM composers to find meaningful and "new" lyrics from the Torah and Chazal. The times were every singer would come up with a new Hamalach Hagoel or Acheinu are over - most recent CD's have very original lyrics. As I see it is a matter of time until JM turns back to poems as its prime source of lyrics. Many singers are already in this stage - Chaim Israel is a good example (no wonder he is Sephardi) and my man Shuli Rand (review coming soon!) - it's really cool to hear songs that actually tell a whole story (of course, I also like songs from Chazal and Torah, but original lyrics are more dynamic and leave more room for creativity, if you know what I mean). But in order to come up with great new lyrics we need great poets. And poetry today is often times seen as outdated or one of those things no one does anymore (come on, admit you thought I was weird when I said I was writing poems).

My poem is stam something I wrote long ago that is not really connected to Torah or Tisha Beav. But maybe that's the birth of a new poet, who will down the road compose lyrics for an actual JM star. Who knows?

But one thing is clear - we need more poets/lyricists! Rav Shwab (maybe I'm confusing with the Bobov Rebbe - see Artscroll's comentary on the Piyutim) wrote his heartbreaking Piyut about the Holocaust, which many congregations recite in Tisha Beav, after he saw in a Sefer that whoever is capable of writing Piyutim should not refrain from writing about the destruction of the Beis Hamikdah. So what are you waiting for?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Nirvana and Shuli Rand

I'm reposting this interview with Shuli Rand as a follow up on what I wrote about his album, a Good Point.

The credit for the video goes to Dixie Yid, a great blogger who also wrote about the album, and although I usually refrain from re-posts, I made an exception this time because I was stunned to see that Mordka's theory, which last week seemed to be nothing more than a late night fabrication, was absolutely on the ball and that the cover of Shuli Rand's Good Point is indeed a response to Nirvana. Here's his comment:
"Album cover reminds me of Nirvana's Nevermind (1991)- though obviously its a far more uplifting message. While Nirvana's seemed to imply the inevitability of being born into consumerism in America, Rand's message, to me at least, is that one can be consumed by the outside world and still maintain their focus (their dress, music, etc.), hence his chasing nothing, wearing clothing, and bringing his possessions with him.
Just my two cents.

Well done Mordka, and I take this opportunity to wish you a big mazal tov on your recent engagement. It seems everything is going right for you!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Screechiness and Jewish Music

Jewish Music, like any other musical genre, has its own particularities.

One good example is the traditional horn-filled arrangement, a shtick that somehow made its way into Jewish Music decades ago and was perpetuated by Yisroel Lamm and Moshe Laufer's signature arrangements, which made up to 70% of all arrangements in JM until some 7 years ago. Horn lines are not popular anymore in the goyish (or to the more sensitive readers, gentile) music industry - guitars, acoustic guitars, synths and techno took over a long time ago. But for some reason, the JM public thinks that horn-filled arrangements have more "Yiddishe Ta'am" than the contemporary and "innapropriate" arrangements we hear in the goyish world.

That explains why some even try to ban singers - Lipa, Rap in Yiddish(I love their first song), Oif Simchas and so on - that make music that don't seem to fit the usual "pure" JM. These people think that the definition of Jewish Music is music that fits in their usual standards, and songs that have a "different" Ta'am must be stopped at all costs. The irony is that good music IS music that sounds different, original and fresh; the usual sound we got so used to hear until a few years ago was primitive. Music isn't perpetual, music evolves with time and whoever negates this will join the ban club eventually. Why? Because we are already witnessing an irreversible shift in Jewish Music towards better and more modern arrangements (and compositions), and today there are many great arrangers out there who know how to put together a decent arrangement. Personally, I like Ilya Lishinsky and Leib Yaakov Rigler, but there are many out there today.

Before you start wondering about the link between this and the post title, let me get to my point.

Another pillar of JM is the love for screechiness. Yes, the love for screechiness. For some reason, just like the crowds are (or were) into horn-lines they are into screechiness. I don't know how this started but that's the only explanation why people liked Shloime Dachs and Yisroel Williger in the 90's, two singers who are not really good but have enjoyed great success until very recently.

That's why people are so into Boys Choirs, from Tzil Vezemer and Miami Boys Choir until the "iconic" Yeshiva Boys Choir, the most screechy group I've ever heard. Please don't take this as a criticism, I'm just giving you factual info here - however way you slice it, the Jewish Boys choirs are screechy. And even if you don't agree with this last point, you will surely agree YBC is. That's black on white. But don't get me wrong, I own all MBC albums and YBC's two albums - I was also into it, like many of you are today. But I evolved. I probably heard YBC's albums 5 times before getting tired of the child vocals.

Let me clarify my point a bit - not all boys choirs must be screechy. In fact, I attended a secular wedding last week were I had the honor to hear a magnificent secular boys choir that was smooth and just very well balanced (they sang Karduner's Shir Hamaalot). I didn't have a camera with me but I managed to get a snap with my phone, although the quality of the sound and image is poor (I will try to post the video soon). All Jewish Boys Choirs I know are seemingly intentionally screechy - I guess the people in the industry unconsciously know that screechiness sells. But how can you expect a kid to sing like a seasoned singer like Lipa or Helfgot? Song interpretation requires brains, experience and common-sense and it's unfair to put so much attention in child soloists that can scream a note out of their lung. Benny Amar's great debut album was hardly hit by the exaggerated use of child soloists and I think in today's day and age that's just unacceptable.

I can bring more examples. Yaakov Shwekey is extremely screechy and people adore him. When Shomati came out, people couldn't stop saying "Did you see how high he goes in Rachem???" or "Wow, he goes even higher than Avraham Fried. Wooow!". Well, a distinction must be made between kvetching a note and reaching a note properly. As my voice coach used to say, it's more enjoyable to hear a good low note than a screechy high note. It's possible that your mind is so used to hearing screechiness that you think I just landed from Mars, but musically speaking screechiness is horrible. Not bad, horrible. (Disclaimer: there are many things I like about Shwekey, I'm just pointing out his Aquiles Heel).

I'm quite certain that just like the horns are definitely behind us, screechiness is following the same path. Yossi Green's The 8th Note is a roadmap (or in Chaim's words, a bible) for JM in the coming years and one thing that album doesn't have is screechiness - the pillar of the album is smooth vocals and no kids are to be found there. And of course, there are virtually no horn arrangements. Well done YG.

Yitzy Spinner is one of the most promising talents out there and he also didn't have kids singing nor screeching vocals. Just the opposite, pure smoothness. So is Lev Tahor - just smoothness.

AKAPella, which came out with a decent album with superb vocals, is another good example of how non-screechy vocals can bring an album to new heights. Ok, the songs were not original but AKAPella's vocals are spotless.

Dovid Gabay is a non-screechy Shwekey and he is great; it's a pleasure to hear him. He did use kids in Zaroh but it fitted well in the song's theme, that is, he used common-sense. The problem starts when grown-ups use child soloists without any commom-sense.

Lipa is also not screechy and I happen to like his voice just because of that.

Another sign that screechiness is on the way out is the rebirth of Chazzanut that we've seen in the past decade. Let me explain: all Chazzanus concerts are packed lately and so many youngsters, this blogger among them, are starting to get into the genre - think of Hasc, where Helfgot is today the major player with Avraham Fried (they were there in the past 3 years). Whoever likes Chazzanut hates screechiness, because Chazzanut is the anathema of it. The Chazzanim sing the notes the way they are supposed to come out of a singer's mouth - without ANY screechiness. Listen to Yaakov Motzen once and you will throw away your YBC's cds.

Finally JM is walking out of the woods, and the days of the horn arrangements and screechy boys choirs are counted.
My ears are cheering.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Great Clip

Someone mailed me this clip of Ki Ata Kadosh from Adi Ran. We all know this song, but it's the first time I see the clip.

Adi Ran rocks!! Such a wacky guy, he's has style. I'm planning to get his last album, Unplugged (see previous post) - I'm suddenly craving for Israeli albums.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Round Up

From the "mailbag" (yes, I'm quoting BlogInDM):

Mordka, in his signature witty style, reacts to my comments on Adi Ran in my previous post:
Adi Ran's unplugged album sounds as if, during a period of drug withdrawal, he was handed an acoustic guitar and locked into a studio for 4 days. And nights. Adi modulates between playful/cute and raw/angry, but is consistently personal. Its like the time you were on your marpeset and your neighbor was practicing his guitar with the window open, and didn't know you were listening. Its a welcome reprieve from over-produced albums that modify everything into a sugary-sweet gloss (read: Shwekey, Lev Tahor). I once met a Chabad Rav with a long black beard who moved from New Jersey to Ofakim. Ofakim is like a 19th century western town. Poor, dusty, and ugly, but real. In the car, he blasted Adi Ran. "Can't listen to any other Jewish music," he said. For a real town like Ofakim, you need real music, like Adi Ran's.

Anonymous on JM today:
While some strictly jewish music is trully good and good for you (YG,
Carlebach, Yishai Lapidot - Lipa is not exactly in that category), it
is just like jewish recepies for cakes and kugals. Meaning, while
Judaism probably doesn't have room for filthy lyrics, its doesn't have
anything against 90% of (U2, Coldplay, Elton John, Bocelli, Pavarotti,
Julio Iglessias) goyish songs! (That is even before we tackle the debate on recorded Kol Isha and if
this was said about durning Krias Shma only or not). So listening to JM is just as part as being jewish as eating kugal -
and yes, kugal sells.

Chaim started the Take 1 Miztva Campaign and this blog fully supports his initiative. On a personal note, I will try daven Aleinu from the siddur, and that's my contribution. What about you?

For the beer lovers, you can't miss this JPost article on He'brew (the Chosen Beer), the new sensation in the boutique brewery market, featuring a variety of beer that include Genesis, Rejewvenator, Jewbilation and more! Yum!!!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Introducing Shuli Rand, the Singer

Most of you know Shuli Rand or at least find his face somewhat familiar - you have surely seen him staring as Moshe Ballanga in the award-winning Israeli movie Ushpizin. Until now he was just an actor, actually a great one (he won Israel’s Theater Actor of the Year several times), and he has been out of the spotlight since the buzz around Ushpizin faded out (he used to live in Ramot until recently, and was very frequently called "Ballanga" because many people actually thought that was his real name). But Rand is back, this time releasing his first album, "Good Point".

Of course, this news didn't reach and probably will never reach US soil. As I noted several times, most Israeli albums never reach the US simply because the US and Israeli JM buyers like different things - in the US, Jewish Music albums are more standardized, mainly comprised of mainstream or more yeshivish-styled albums. In the other hand, the Israeli JM market is much more eclectic and there is a ton of "alternative" Jewish Music choices, like Adi Ran and Chaim David. In my period here in Israel I've come to learn that we never get to hear many Israeli hits that enjoy incredible popularity here in Israel. For instance, Shai Barak's Ana Bekoach is so popular that many Shul's have permanently introduced it in their Kabbalat Shabbos services. It's very likely that you have never heard this exquisite song, a kind of song you will probably never hear from an American JM singer (I actually bought this album in Eilat's boardwalk after hearing it in a kiosk). Another example is Adir Ran's Ata Kadosh, which only crossed the Atlantic because it was featured in Ushpizin. If not for that, we would never hear it. Those who say Levine's Vezakeini is the best hit in the last couple years are terribly mistaken - Vezakeini doesn't comes to the heels of Ata Kadosh, Ana Bekoach, two songs that should be in everyone's top list. Although Vezakeini is a nice song, it's "more of the same", while the these two songs are new, creative and original. But let me come back to my original point.

In that context, you have Shuli Rand's debut album, which sounds different than anything you've heard until now. Rand composed all the music and lyrics of this album, and his work was acclaimed by the secular critics in Israel. I didn't hear the whole album yet, but I can already say one thing: it's weird and original. Rand's voice is very very raw, that is, he never took a singing lesson in his life. But that doesn't means he's unable to do great music. Take Adi Ran, as an example, his voice is BAD (after you see the link you'll agree), but somehow it's really enjoyable to hear him singing Ata Kadosh, a world-class song. Like Adi Ran, Shuli Rand is a Breslov Chassid and his lyrics are pretty much stories linked to the Breslov movement - he wisely didn't go for the usual yeshivish lyrics (Hamalach, Achienu, Mi Von Siach and all). And what's most important, everyone can understand his Hebrew lyrics (laafukei Lipa).

Aside from the musical side of this album, I must note Rand has a special PR talent. Somethings I see out there make me think "I could've done that too", but to jump in a pool, with your whole beketshe, shabbos hat and guitar in order to come up with a cool album jacket, that's just brilliant. How did he come up with that? That's how an album cover is supposed to be - COOL. A cover with a violin, or a clock, or just with the singer name in font size #64 it's just not cool.

I'll come up with a review soon, even though I know none of this blog's readers will ever buy Rand's album. But just because Rand's album will never reach the US, that doesn't mean he is worth nothing; actually, the opposite is true.

Where the Hell is YK? Here! (Don't forget to zoom out first)

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