Wednesday, December 7, 2011

MBD's Kisufim Review

Yes it has been a while since my last review. But MBD's last album is a great excuse to write again, and I went ahead and downloaded the album from Mostlymusic's website, the first time I used their service. By the way, their website is working well and the process of buying was easy although I would suggest a Facebook Connect option as I hate signing up for anything these days (disclaimer: I have no connection to Mostlymusic and I payed for the album from my pocket)

To the album: it is MBD's last album and I deep inside don't want to be harsh on him and I do hope it's a good one.

The first two songs, Shalom Aleichem and Menucha have a lot in common, for the good and for the bad. Both songs have a "folkish" sound, have pleasant but forgettable arrangements, have Zemiros lyrics and are not really melodical. I would not put these two songs back to back as he has done here but I believe it does sets the tone and it shows what MBD is aiming for - authenticity. They remind me very much of MBD's Kumzitz Album which had this same concept and was very succesfull. These two songs don't have the same impact because they are not hits and are rather forgetable but at least it was well produced and it did set a very specific mood from the start. ***

Al Kein is a sad slow song that has a weak first part but that gains momentum in the second part, which doesn't follow the traditional "low first part/ high second part" setting that we know so well. The arrangement and adult vocals are as good as the first two songs but those who know me know how much I dislike these child solos. I do like soft child solos like in 4:55 and onwards but the child solos before that were unnecessary and in my opinion are counterproductive, specially in a sad song like this one. ****

Shomrei is a great composition from Rav Kalish that has a great arrangements, both instrumental and vocal. Here I don't mind the children singing - it fits in the mood of this song - and this unpretentious song is reminiscent from the songs introduced by MBD in Efshar Letaken, like Gevald for instance. *****

Hazkiri is the second slow song of this album and although the first part is ok, the second is really weak. The song is well arranged but otherwise unnapetizing. Wondering what caught MBD's attention here. **

Tzemach tzemach is a simple, refreshing niggun that is perhaps one of the strongest pieces of this album. It's a kumzits song that was very well arranged and all vocals are well balanced and pleasent to listen. Not a hit but this song is about pure relaxation. ****

Anim zemiros is reportedly a song from the Rebbe but honestly never heard it before. It's a nice composition and i specially like how the words in the second part don't particurarily fit well in the bars - it makes the song unique and differrent. Nice ending too, with a sweet falsetto from MBD. *****

The Chabad niggun is nice and very "traditional" but we had that covered with the tzemach tzedek niggun. I think it's positive to have one niggun in an album but two is just too much Dragging the album to the boring side ***

Hashiveini has unnoriginal lyrics and the compositon is very weak, so MBD needed some magic to make this song fly. Mission not accomplished and this song is an unnecessary "filler" in MBD's farewell album *

Nichsefo is the typical Moshe laufer song - Midtempo, easy to sing and not particularily original. But it's fun and interestingly, not arranged by laufer. I guess they wanted to maintain the folk feel that we have throughout the album, something laufer would probably not do if he were to be the arranger. ***

Kisufim is a yiddish song composed by mbd himself with Lipa lyrics. The tune is actually ok but it has no climax, leaving us with the feeling that something is missing. I guess it's more about the words....***

Simchas toireh - see Chabad niggun comment above. By now it's pretty clear MBD is going to a strange direction here. Nothing wrong with the niggun but it's just flatly boring and not only this adds nothing to the album, it actually takes a lot away from it. And the arrangement here is below the quality of the rest of the album. *

Ani maamin. Worst possible choice of lyrics, unnecessary child soloist and nothing new.
Yibone. Actually a great classic i did not mind to hear again. But what's the point of squeezing two distinct songs in one track?

Impecably arranged by M. Hershkovitz, Ashreini is another song composed by MBD and it features among the best in the album. I wish we would have more of those.

Bottom line, do I like this album? I prefer to put it like this - I don't dislike it. The arrangements are simple and groovy, with a common theme: strings, more strings and a great choir. As a result, Kisufim does have a very unique sound but the problem is not the production. I think MBD played too safe and tried to say goodbye with a Kumzits album that is not as good as the Kumzits album. The album lacks innovation and courage, two things that that every album should have and that could have made this album a masterpiece. That's why I didn't like this album too much.
 Efshar letaken was much better.

With that said, my big kudos for MBD for giving us so many great moments throughout his remarkable Jewish music career.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Continue or not to Continue

Even tough I'm pretty much retiring from this blog, it keeps getting very good traffic without any effort from my part.

I'm spending all my blogging time in my Safrut blog but this one continues to keep steam somehow.

As much as I like to review and comment about the Jewish Music scene, I'm unsure there's still a need for it today. So I pretty much get discouraged to spend time writing, listening and buying the latest JM gear.

Which leads me to the big q' - to continue or not to continue?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ohad 3 Review + Video Songs

I've been wondering if I should review Ohad 3 or not... The album is out already for quite some time - perhaps I should review something else.
Meanwhile, I've come across two videos:

I've heard Shwekey's brother a few times but he seems more rounded this time; he evidently took voice coaching classes and he sounds better now. The song is quite weak, forgetable although the lyrics are sung in a different way than the usual Mi Adir. He starts with the last part and if not for this lyrics change I wouldn't even bother to watch it - I don't listen to Mi Von Siach/Mi Adir songs anymore. Got sick of them.

Which brings me to another Music Video, this time by Yossi Green.
 The contrast is evident - the lyrics. Yossi Green can spend months until he finds the right lyrics for a song, and he ultimatedly did find a great set of lyrics for this song. The lyrics alone propel this song to another level and YG knows how to play with the lyrics and interpret them. But I'm afraid he is alone; most of the songs I hear are still old lyrics battered again and again. Mi Adir/Mi Von Siach and Halach Hagoel are perhaps the most overused lyrics, and even Ohad 3 unfortunatedly had a Mi Von Siach - a waste of time in an otherwise interesting album.
The tune is interesting, changing the tempo very smoothly between the second and third part of the song, and the vocals are very good - first time I hear these fellows. YG has mastered the composition process like no other JM composer in the past decades, a real blessing for JM fans.
And unlike Yosef Chai's video, this video is novel - it is a real story. Somebody comissioned YG to compose a song for his Bar Mitzva son and the video illustrates the process. That's new, original and fresh.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

jpost: iTunes categorizes Jewish music as ‘Christian & Gospel'

By MICHAEL FREUND 18/09/2011 Apple's online music store does not have a separate category for Jewish and hassidic melodies.   Apple Inc.’s popular online digital media outlet iTunes classifies many of the most well-known Jewish performers and their albums as “Christian & Gospel” material and does not have a separate category for Jewish melodies, The Jerusalem Post has found. Albums by Avraham Fried, an Orthodox Jew, with titles such as Yiddish Gems Volumes 1 & 2, My Fellow Jew and The Baal Shem Tov’s Song all appear under the “Christian & Gospel” category. Other songs of his appear under the heading “World.” Similarly, Mordechai Ben- David’s collections Just One Shabbos and Yerushalayim Our Home, as well as songs such as “Yom Tov Medley,” are all listed as “Christian.” And the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s album Shaarei Shabbat – Songs and Blessings for your Jewish home” which includes the song “Am Yisrael Chai” (“the People of Israel live”), is included in the Christian category. Music for Jewish children and cantorial works by Joseph Malovany of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue are also not exempt from Apple’s unusual classification system, which deems them to be Christian. Contacted by the Post, Fried expressed astonishment. “Why would they put Jewish and Hassidic music under the ‘Christian and Gospel’ category? It makes no sense,” he said. “I don’t understand where they are coming from and what the point is of doing this,” Fried said. “I would hate to think this is an attempt to bury Jewish music under a Christian or Gospel label.” Repeated requests for comment to Apple’s corporate headquarters in California and its UK branch went unanswered. Fried said Apple should change its policy and create a Jewish grouping. “It is time to have Jewish and Hassidic music stand on its own,” he declared. “It should have its own category and be called by its right name – Jewish music.” Apple’s iTunes is said to be the largest online music and video vendor in the world. In February 2010, the company announced that more than 10 billion songs had been purchased and downloaded from the site since its inception in 2003.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review of Shades of Green 2

If there's one genre of album I never buy, that is what I call "Chazora Albums". Falling in this category is a plethora of wedding albums, remix albums, project next albums that are easy and cheap to produce. I don't buy those because there's nothing new there - it's basically a double charge for songs you have paid for already.

Shades of Green series is a notable exception. First, it has YG's production standard, which is far higher than the average album out there. But more importantly, it's a testament to Yossi Green's remarkable career, coming straight from him.

Shades of Green 1 was good, I would say 6 on 10. There wasn't much new in the songs and it was just plain "Chazora Album" albeit with a very good production.

This time it's different. The production in #2 is somewhat more sophisticated and it enables Yossi to innovate more than before. Almost every song has a cool shtick, featuring Yossi Green's interpretation of his own hits - instead of a tired review of his songs we have totally new versions of his hits.

Shades of Latin - interestingly, YG decides to tweak his iconic Sephardi-style song into a latin sound. It's a nice try but I think the song loses all it's identity with this tweak and it becomes a weak latin song. Ohad's Gedola Shiro is also an unlikely candidate for a latin song but it worked better, and as usual, YG shows off his exceptional harmony skills with a dissonant note at 4:00. Novel and cool. ***

Shades of Motown - Hu Iftach is not among Yossi best hits and I wouldn't have chosen it for this album. It doesn't blend in the Motown style at all. Happy Days does, but overall there's little innovation in this shade. **

Shades of Dance - that's where the album changes gear. The arrangement is clearly Shai Bachar (I think) and the two songs are perfect for this Dance theme - no tweak this time. But although the songs are well done, Yossi has little room to innovate here, as the original songs had pretty much the same vibe and even more energy, thanks to Gertner and Wald's superb vocals. ***

Shades of Hipsh - the funky arrangement gives YG room for shticks - I love the one in 1:30 and 4:20. Nice concept. ****

Shades of Rock - The arrangement, I believe from Lamm, is weak. It's the traditional JM rock beat, the one we have heard countless times in the past decades and that's a dated kind of rock. Trumpets, saxophone should have no place there and I wish Yossi would dare to turn this into a heavier rock song. *

Shades of Baroque - Chesed VeEmet is probably one of YG's most relaxing and sweet songs, and Yossi brings the song to the next level with clever arpeggio vocal arrangements. Tzomo, if my memory serves me well was released by Yossi Rose in his first album (which didn't sell well but was quite good). I don't rank it among Yossi's greatest hits but it's ok. Lamm's arrangement is again weak, specially towards the end of the song, but YG carries the song well and smartly.***

Shades of Debka - great shade, showcasing YG's aptitude for middle-eastern songs. I wouldn't have used flutes and clarinets in the arrangement - why not keep it Arabic style? The vocal arrangements are very smart and cool, this is one of the best segments of the album. I wish that Yemenite rabbi from the 8th Note would be back here for a special appearance. ****

Shades of Blue - clever intro, tweaking Wald's original song. This Ani Maamin is from YG's most powerful songs and I'm happy he went for some solos opposed to using his choir the whole time. The arrangements has little from blues, and this song in general is not blues. But the second song is interesting, coming from Nissan's album. Few people bought Nissan's album but this song is a gem, and I always wondered why Nissan didn't succeed. YG makes this song really special, even better than the original and makes justice to this dark-horse song. Very strong shade *****

Shades of Soul - soul? If that's what they were shooting for, it failed. **

Shades of Chant - This is the album's best moment, a truly revolutionary Shade. From beginning the end, this shade is legendary, turning two of YG's most tired songs into some sort of byzantine chorus songs. This time the execution of this shade was flawless, and YG sounds better than ever in the chorus parts. This is the direction I keep wishing JM will go, and credit must be given to the arranger - it's not Lamm and it doesn't sounds Shai but it could be him. Everything in this song works, it's the complete package and that alone was worth the 25 dollars I was charged for this album (yes, I overpaid). ***** plus

Shades of Yiddish - ***

Shades of Accapella - interesting premise as we rarely see YG venturing into accapella and it was smart to bring more voices, I was afraid YG would do a Eli Gerstner shtick of one man acapella work. The arrangement by Mo Kiss is very good, but the AKAPella soloist in Min Hameitzar does not nail the song, lacking Shlomo Simcha's power that we saw in the original. Even YG's solo sounded better than the other soloists, so that is a letdown. If you ignore the soloists, the song is well built and I love how YG comes out in this setting, specially in the unusual modulation in 4:15 - I loved it ****

Shades of March - I don't know this march.. not a fan of it. Not memorable, not as creative as YGs usual compositions. The English song is cute **

Always on Call - quite a surprise! Nice vocals, nice song and nice cause.

Shades of Green 2 is better than 1. There's still lots of room for improving and I would dare more with the arrangements next time. And I would make it more 8th Note-ish - why not bring guest singers for every song, a la Gideon Levine? I would still keep YG's vocals as this is about his legacy but one bar here and there could be sung by guest singers. Nice album; special mention to Shades of Chant - wow!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pessach Video

It seems like people feel like we need new shtick videos every Chag these days. While some are definitely interesting and creative, others like this one fall sort. He can actually sing and has a pretty sold voice, but why mix Sole Mio and Pessach? Corny.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Jewish Star Videos and more

Video: performers

Interviews with judges and contestants

So... A Jewish Star is over and a day later we know who won - Piamenta Jr - with a very energetic performance. Did he deserve it? Looking at all the performances, this was the only listenable piece. The rest was subpar, very very weak and mostly off tuned.

What is clear is that well produced auditions masked the real voices of the auditioners. They are all at best average voices, and that's already a compliment. Next time the auditions should be voice only. Let's be real.

In a more positive note, this edition showed that anyone, ANYONE, could have been standing there. Yes, you also. Maybe that will encourage more people to submit videos.

The lack of interactiveness hurt this a lot, since only the people who attended te show were actually part of it. The unfortunate souls who couldn't make it had no connection to it until today. Didn't anybody think of making a live feed over the web?

In any case, shkoiach to Piamenta Jr who did feel confortable in stage much like Binyamin Moshe last year. We already have a pattern of Israelis doing well in the contest and that's no surpirse - Israeli Jewish Music is far more interesting the mainstream today. Israeli seem to have more chutzpa to do their thing without being afraid of standing out. That's great for music.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Finalists are here - A Jewish Star

A Jewish Star Season Two - Finalists from on Vimeo.

Well, many surprises made into the next stage and many very talented contestants were left behind, but it is what it is.

The more edgy contestants are Weinstein and Menkes, but it's interesting to note that neither of the two have special voices - their strength is in their original compositions. And that's ok.

Now I can't understand how Hillel Braun and Piamenta made it through. It will probably remain as the mystery of this century.

In any case, A. Fried was as always on the ball and consistent, albeit less aggressive than last year; Peillin does have value as a judge as he knows what to look for in a performer. However Eli G was surprisingly popcorn-ish, very superficial and way too afraid to say anything undiplomatic. Is he the Paula Abdul of this show? He has the experience and pedigree to be there but I really hope he steps up his game in the live show.

All in all, this show is very lukewarm and I hereby call again for a different formula for next year. Let the judges choose and then the public. The current formula forced the judges against the wall, as they have no say in who will be the top 10 and they could only bend their head's down and agree.

The judges should be more in the spotlight! The video above was OK but far from being a immersive entertainment section. If done it correctly, this show has the potential to be a blockbuster.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Jewish Star vs American Idol

A Jewish Star will soon move to the next stage, and VIN released a list of the more popular contestants.

As the show moves on, one thing is clear - the voting system is tricky. Why? let's first look at American Idol's system, which was the inspiration for this show. In American Idol, a panel of unknown judges judge hundreds of thousands of contestants around the US, choosing the more interesting auditions. This always includes bad contestants, who will be later be made fun of. But aside from these, the contestants who pass have good voices. In the next stage, they appear in front of a panel of star judges, like Steven Tyler and J. Lopez this year, who will choose the ones they approve. Only in the next stage - stage 3 - the public kicks in to pick their favorites.

A Jewish Star's format is very different - the "public", that is, registered voters, solely decide who will pass to stage 2. Some commenters have raised valid questions:
anonymous says:

Just because these guys have lots of friends to vote for them, doesn’t make them a good singer! They should be judged by their voice and talent (by the 3 judges), not by the amount of votes they got because they are popular. This is not supposed to be a popularity contest! There are others who should to be on this list and some on this list that shouldn’t!!! I hope others agree with me!

I partly agree with Anon. I would put it differently - why do you need the panel of judges of the public will be choosing who will pass? However, the public should be involved as this is the secret of American Idol's success. So who should decide - public or judges?

I think that it should be more like American Idol - the top ten should be chosen be the panel of experts and only in the next stage the public would pick their favorites. The current voting system leaves an open door to weak contestants who can find a way to arrange backing from the voting "public".

I would like to stress that I was from the early enthusiasts of this show and I still think it's a great idea. But there's room for improvement and I believe my criticism is constructive. A few golden contestants were left out and with this other system I think they would have very good chances of going to stage 2.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Eli Gerstner and Aidelkeit


"When asked what qualities he looks for when he auditions choir members, Gerstner said: “Good voice, stage presence and the most important factor – aidelkeit.”

“A child who performs must be a Baal Midos. It won’t work any other way. People don’t want to see a boy with an ego. The ego comes through in the voice.”

So a good voice is not all?

“Exactly. We turn down so many kids who try out for YBC who have amazing voices but lack in Aidelkeit. Take Avrohom Fried, for example, he has an amazing stage presence without the ego. And look where he is…”"

I am an early Gerstner fan who jumped off the boat when he started his child choir career path. Until then I bought every single CD he produced, the good ones and the weaker ones. Overall, I liked his music and contribution to Jewish Music. With that said, I was a little confused by the interview above. He signaled the importance of Aidelkeit for the audiences when speaking about boys choir but brought an example from Avraham Fried's way of being.

But if Eli subscribes to the importance of Aidelkeit as seen in Avraham Fried, why doesn't the same standard applies to adult performers (Chevra is not exactly in the Aidelkeit field)? Should they all be "aidel" as well or the argument only goes as far as child choirs are concerned?

Well I believe ego is most often good for music. It's hard to define what kind of ego Eli is talking about, but in adult soloists, I like when they have personality as it adds flavor to their compositions and public performances. Take Lipa, Dedi, Yishai Lapidot, Adi Ran - all them have positive "egos" which make them extremely entertaining. After all, that's what singers are - entertainers. Avraham Fried is also an entertainer but with a whole different, most subdued, no-ego, style. And that's also appealing to many.

Now take child soloist. Eli says he will refuse the very best soloist just because he has ego; or if I understand him correctly, just because he has a strong personality. Why? Because there's a code which was created in the Children's Choir world - they should look all the same, sing all the same and smile at all times. And be aidel.

Doesn't that sound funny to you? Boys Choir are not entertaining; the are just cute (to some). That explains why Eli refuses egos - they stand out from the cute standard. Even if they have the best voice ever.

That goes out to prove that when it comes to Boys Choir, music comes in second place. First is about fitting in the stereotype. With this kind of backstage, it's no surprise that no good music comes from there. It's an institutionally flawed system. Kids are not meant to entertainers. Adults are. Lipas are. Dedis are. Children are not; they are just cute.

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...