Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Shalsheles Volume IV Review

Since Volume 3 started with a slow song – Gadlu – I was expecting this album to start with a very energetic song like Shalsheles Junior’s great Modeh Ani. Instead, the album starts with Hiney, a very singable and mellow song that's not amazing. This is a decent composition but it’s not good enough for a first song. ***

After a slippery start, comes Keil Hakovod with a Ron Tichon arrangement. This is a very good song, in the line of Shalsheles Junior's Ilu, but not very energetic. Although it does have a rock sound, the second part “Boruch Yochid” is slow, so this song comes short as an energetic fast song, which probably all of us were expecting. Other than that, it’s a good song. ****

Kulam one of the best songs of this albums and it reminds us what Shalsheles is all about. The song is original – I doesn’t reminds me of any other Shalsheles song – and it’s pleasant to hear and sing along. This songs joins Ekrah, Shma and Ani Ma’amin in the Shalsheles Slow Songs Hall of Fame. Y. Lamm uses some cool dissonant chords at the end of the second part of this song (1:52), keeping the song interesting. The choir here is more solid and upbeat than usual, check 2:32, and there’s a cool “bridge” half-way in the song. The “off-beat” background choir in the last two minutes is breathtaking, it’s one of the things Shalsheles does best.*****

Shir Hamalos was borrowed from Yaakov Young’s album and I already reviewed it. It’s a great song but I prefer Young’s version because his voice is better than all three Shalsheles guys together (no offense). But what I can’t understand is why they stuck in another slow song right after Kulam. At this point we have four songs but none of them are energetic – that’s a major issue, and I wonder where are the fast songs?

Then we have Yofyafisa, a song with very interesting lyrics (only Y. Rosenthal could make it into a song) that I first heard a few weeks ago in Shlager’s website. This is my favorite song in the album, probably because the lyrics seem to fit perfectly to the tune, something rather rare in our days. The tune is simple, and they did the right thing to choose Ron Tichon over Lamm to arrange this one. Lamm is good for a tune like Kulam but Tichon is better for an exquisite tune like this one. *****

Finally, a fast song – Chasdei. It starts with a Chassidish choir, but the song has nothing really Chassidish to it. This is a very boring freilach song (all we hear is Olam Chesed Yiboneh over and over) and Lamm’s arrangement is very confusing. After 6 tracks we don’t have one decent fast song – very disappointing. *

Va’ani is another great slow song, but it’s not interesting enough to last for 6 plus minutes. ****

Ashrei Hoom is the first great fast song (it’s about time) of this album and it’s catchy and original. It’s possible to sing this song in low or high key, so the singers keep switching keys both for the first and second parts of this song. This song has a lot of word repetition, like Shalsheles Junior’s Mode Ani, but it somehow works out. This song should’ve been featured earlier in the album. ****

Lecha Dodi is a cute singable ballad, that could be sung in Shul on Shabbos night. Y. Rosenthal already has in his portfolio other singable shabbos songs like Shalom Aleichem, Magen Avos, Momkomcho (all featured in Rozo d’Shabbos) so now he has only left Keil Adon and Hu Elokeinu for future compositions! ***

Gam Ki Elech
first and second parts are amazing, but the last part suddenly shifts to Kumzits-style music. In Shalsheles 1 we had a similar concept in the song Shimu, which never became a hit. I’m afraid the same will happen to this song. ***

There’s nothing special in Od Yishama, but hey, it’s a fast song. ***

As I stated there are too few good fast songs and this album does gets boring, specially considering that all songs Lamm arranged are over 6 mins. Although the slow songs are up to Shalsheles previous albums this project as a whole is not. An album has to be exciting and have an acceptable level of energy, and that’s not the case here. If only they would’ve organized the songs in a better way… as it is two decent fast songs are featured late in the album.

My theory is that Yizthok Rosenthal gave over his best fast hits to Shalsheles Junior (Mode Ani) and Yaakov Young (Gal Gal, Torah, Ashira), and was left with few fast songs for the actual Shalsheles album. If these songs were kept for Shalsheles, Volume 4 would certainly be a blockbuster. Personally, I’m a Shalsheles fan and I’m happy to pay for an album full with Rosenthal’s slow songs, but I have a feeling this Shalsheles will not sell too well for the general public.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Article from

Someone emailed me this article about contemporary Jewish Music, which was published on Ohr Sameach's website this week, Parshas Itro.

I'm amazed by the simplicity and narrow-mindedness of this author, and I post it here because I've heard this view many times from various people. Some people just live in the past and don't seem to see the good on what's out there today. Obviously most of the albums in the market today are indeed not original but to say that since 1994 we haven't had any original and good music is an absurd statement. I can bet this very author sings Yossi Green's Vezakeinu Lekabel Shabbosos in his Shabbos table along with his family.

Additionally, is it feasible to get any conclusions from a study conducted in 1997 by a 16 year-old high school student?

BTW, I will (finally) post the Shalsheles review in the coming two or three days - I was traveling in the past week. Stay tuned!

Of Mice And Men

“You shall not murder.” (20:13)

Some ten years ago, high-school student David Merrell conducted an interesting experiment to examine the influence of various kinds of music.

He built a maze and put some mice through it. The time it took for the mice to complete the maze was about ten minutes. He then divided the mice into three groups, and started to play music to two of the three groups for ten hours a day. To one group he played classical music, to the other, hard rock. Then, at the end of three weeks he put all the mice through the maze three times a week for three weeks.

The control group who had heard no music, managed to cut five minutes off their original time. The classical mice reduced their time by eight and a half minutes; and the hard rock mice took twenty minutes longer to find their way through the maze.

Unfortunately the project had to be cut short because, as David said, “all the hard rock mice killed each other. None of the classical mice did that at all.” (Washington Times, July 2, 1997)

We live in a world of increasingly mindless violence. The irritability threshold of the average person has dropped to alarming levels. As early as 1997, therapists in the United States were working to certify road rage as a medical condition. It is already an official mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to an article published by the Associated Press in June 2006, the behaviors typically associated with road rage are the result of intermittent explosive disorder. This conclusion was drawn from surveys of some 9,200 adults in the United States between 2001 and 2003, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

The cause of intermittent explosive disorder has not been described to date.

Turn on the radio and listen to some of the latest Jewish music. It sounds about as Jewish as Led Zeppelin wearing tefillin.

There is an ongoing debate about to what extent Jewish music should be allowed to ape (pun intended) its secular counterpart. In fact, this debate goes back to the achronim (later commentators).

At one end of the scale is the Krach shel Romi, an Italian commentator, who describes how Roman Jews would stand behind the Cathedral and copy down the latest Catholic liturgical hits to be used during the prayers on High Holidays. At the other end of the scale, there are those who say that even the influence of classical music can contain the negative spiritual genes of its composers. However, it is well known that many of the great Chassidic nigunim (tunes) bear more than a passing resemblance to Russian and Polish marching songs.

Rabbi Nachman Bulman, zatzal, the great Mashgiach (spiritual counselor) of Ohr Somayach, founder and rabbi of numerous Torah communities and institutions, once told me that in every generation we have had composers who were able to extract the pri, the "fruit" from the klippa, the "shell" of impurity. However, the last songwriter who managed to do this died in October 1994. I understood him to mean that the Jewish music that followed afterwards was unredeemed secular plagiarism; the klippa had devoured the fruit completely.

There is a mystical concept that there are many gates to Heaven. The one that is closest to the Kissei HaKavod, the “throne” of G-d, is the gate of music.

Music is one of the holiest channels from above. Why would we want to block it up with the dross of the world? Worse still, why would we want to risk the mice becoming men?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Chochmah Binah V'Daat

Life-of-Rubin has a great post on the evolution of JM and I want to explore a little another fascet of the evolution Chaim mentioned.

If you take a look in JM you will see that it's not a accurate reflection of the actual Orthodox world. Let me explain. In the Orthodox world, there's modern orthodox, yeshivish, chasidish, sephardim and many other "sects". In the old days, there wasn't much diversity in JM and, as Chaim pointed out, you couldn't find Jewish Rock or groupies like Chevra and Lev tahor. As the industry evolved, we got a broader array of sub-genres within JM and today we have new sub-genres like reggae, rap, Acapella and so on.

But some sects are way more represented than others and now I'll get to my point. It's fascinating to me that so many voices in JM are Chabad - we have of course Avraham Fried, Shlomo Simcha, Piamenta, Yossi Rose, Yossi Goldstein, Yaakov Young, 8th Day, formerly Matisyahu, Benny Friedman and more. Isn't it interesting that so many top singers belong to a specific sect, namely, Chabad? So, although we have much diversity in JM today, Chabad definitely owns the stage.

(On a side note, the Sephardim also have a strong presence in this typically Ashkenazi industry - take Shwekey and Dovid Gabay).

Not long ago, the typical JM singer was MBD, Shlome Dachs, Mendy Wald and the like - Ashkenazi, Yeshivish and American - but along with the evolution of JM, there was a shift away from this standard profile and perhaps the new standard profile is... Chabad!

So why is Chabad so strong in JM? I have some theories. One of them is that Chabad is strongly focused in Kiruv and consequently people from all sorts of background join Chabad day after day. Chabad is one of the most active Chassidic sects, with Shluchim all over the world, major events like the Chabad Telethon and even a news channel. I was watching an interview with JewDa the other day and he said that before he became religious he had a thing for hip-hop and when he made Teshuva he didn't give up his passion, he decided to become a Jewish Hip Hop singer. Most Chabadniks I know have something in common - they are not afraid to be themselves, to go away from the standard.

I'm not saying all Chabad singers are Baal Teshuva, but my point is that there's a unique broadminded environment in Chabad that propels talents in the JM scene.

In that environment, a guy who has a good voice and musical skill is not afraid to focus in it and excel, even if he was into Reggae, Hip-hop or just the mainstream JM.

Any other theories?

UPDATE: I now read Chaim's second post, about Benny Friedman. He says Benny is the next generation of JM because he uses the Internet "to make a presence for himself". I think that's related to what I wrote, perhaps. If Benny was Satmar or Viznitz, he would probably get a ban for promoting himself in the web. But in the Chabad world, the internet has been used as tool to reach other Jews and Benny does the same, which indeed puts him apart from all other singers.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

New! Shlomo Artzi singing in Yiddish

The story goes that Shlomo Artzi, Israel's most popular "chiloni" singer, was recording one of his songs in a Bnei Brak studio when he heard this Belze song being recorded next door. So he stormed in and asked to sing in it, because it reminded him of his grandfather, with his beard and Peyot.

The result is here in this new video and it's amazing, I'll try to get this album. Shlomo Artzi is so talented, he's really great at the slow tempo harmonies and he was able to "fit in" the song seamlessly. Don't miss this vid!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Shlomo Simcha's Yachad

I just came back from my winter vacation in Argentina, and aside from checking out the famed Kosher McDonald's and the steak-houses, there was a big buzz around the Maccabi Games, some sort of Jewish Olympics that is apparently held every year in a different country.

And to entertain all the tourists the Chabad from Argentina organized a big dinner featuring Shlomo Simcha and a choir. I've heard S. Simcha many times live and his voice was very well coached - great skill and a very pleasant timber. And his best song to date has been his rendition of Shlomo Carlebach's Yachad, which can be seen in this video (article about it on Shlager) at 2:09 and on (the beggining is passable..). The choir is very geshmack and I wish I could be singing there - I love this setting where a large choir surrounding the singer.

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 e...