Friday, May 30, 2008

In Review: An Eclectic Mix

Gershon Veroba – Reach Out

Ever since I first discovered him, when I purchased ‘Sasson Vesimcha" in high school, Gershon Veroba has been a musical influence. A wonderful singer, with strong roots in Chassidic and Israeli music, as well as American pop music, Gershon has always evidenced a refreshing musical sophistication in his approach to Jewish music.

On “Reach Out”, Gershon returns to his true love, composing original Jewish American music, after a few years moonlighting as a parodist singing Jewish versions of popular secular songs for the “Variations” series and his own “Impressions” series.

Most of the songs on this album are original, although it does include a song composed by Yaakov Gifter, one by Elimelech Blumstein, and a cover of Sam Glaser’s “Across The River.” For most of the album, Veroba is backed by his band, Takana. Formed a few years ago to back Gershon in concert, Takana ably fills their position, providing tight rocking accompaniment on tunes like “Bamarom”, “Mi She’oso”, and “Ana Avda”, and sensitive backing on the slower songs.

Israeli rockers Reva Lesheva make a guest appearance providing the music to “Harimi”, a pretty song written for Yeshivat Shaarei Mevaseret Yerusholayim.

The songs are a blend of original songs in English and settings of liturgy. My personal preference is for the Hebrew originals, but the English lyrics are a cut above the typical cheesy JM strive/alive learn/yearn rhyme scheme popular in so much Orthodox JM. “Reach Out” blends American pop influences ranging from Tom Petty-esqe guitars to Neal Diamond in a mature blend of harmonic sophistication and taste.

Gershon's website is here.

(You can hear audio clips in the widget below.)

Temple – Coming Home

Temple is a duo featuring singer Danya Uriel and guitarist Eyal Rivlin. “Coming Home” is an album of original Hebrew chants that “honor the sacred and foster inner healing and inspiration.”

The album features seven chants in Hebrew and includes some original texts as well as settings of Lecha Dodi, Ana El Na, and Vetaher Libenu. Many guest artists, including some on exotic instruments, like tabla, Bansuri flute, esraj, nyckleharpa, and harmonium, join Uriel and Rivlin here to create these pretty soundscapes

The music is very relaxing in an Enya-esque manner. Not specifically aimed at the Jewish market, this disc would be a nice for anyone looking for some peaceful music to set a contemplative or calming mood.

The distributor shipped this disc together with several catalogs selling tools, teachings, and audio learning courses for personal and spiritual transformation. They also included DharmaCrafts – The Catalog of Meditation Supplies and a trial offer free issues of Biddahdharma – The Practitioner’s Quarterly and Shambhala Sun.

Temple's website is Here's their MySpace page.

(You can also hear audio clips in the widget below.)

Daniel Gil – Soul Calling

A while back, the Stropkover Rebbe gave me an awesome recording of Sanz & Stropkover nigunim that he’d given out as a gift to guests at his daughter’s wedding. I’d expected it to be the usual; either a Chassidic one-man-band extravaganza, or else, a contempo Chassidic pop album ala the current Belzer releases. I was pleasantly surprised when the disc turned out to be essentially Chassidic prog rock, blending classical and rock, influences in interesting ways.

The artist behind that recording turns out to be Daniel Gil, a fact I discovered when he contacted me to send a review copy of Soul Calling, and mentioned that he also had recorded an album of Sanz & Stropkover melodies that had not been commercially released. He offered to include that disc as well, an offer I accepted. It’s a neat disc, and I’d encourage Daniel to find a way to make it available for download online, perhaps via iTunes or Amazon.

“Soul Calling” is an album of Daniel’s original nigunim. Daniel blends his classical training as composer and violinist with world music flavors and the influence of his Rebbi, the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. This album has a softer flavor that the nigunim disc, with softer instrumentation. Norbert Statchel’s woodwinds and Marquinho Brasil’s world percussion add tasteful flavor to Daniel’s pretty melodies. The vocals remind of tasteful Chassidic neginah with a worldly awareness. Nice stuff.

I’ll point out that on this disc, released in ’99, Daniel was experimenting with some Reggae influences on Ani Ma’amin, well before Matisyahu allegedly pioneered said approach.

You can hear audio samples at Daniel’s MySpace page.

Kabbalah - Kabbalah Kollection

When I was in high school, the mashgiach banned a Jewish rock album called Kabbalah. Had he not done so, I likely would not have heard it. Since he chose to make the school aware of the album, someone obtained a copy and it was surreptitiously passed around the dorm.

The album featured original rock settings of tefilah. Times have changed, and what was under-appreciated then just might get some more attention now, especially given the success of so many other Jewish rock bands.

Now available in a CD re-release featuring songs from 1986’s Kabbalah and 1987’s Kabbalah: Classic, the disc can be purchased at CD Baby.

Consisting of bassist/vocalist Mark Skier (now known as Psycho Toddler), guitarist Izzy Botnick, drummer Simcha Kagan, Moish Taubenblat (volume 1) and Brian Gelfand (volume 2) on keys and vocals, with saxophonist Adam Greebler (volume 1) and Jacob Rosenthal on guitar, Kabbalah was unashamedly a Jewish rock band playing Jewish rock music. And, they did it well.

This disc rocks. If you like classic rock, you should definitely check this out. Jewish music as influenced by the Ramones, The Kinks, Squeeze, and so many more.

This collection includes classic tracks like Shru Lo and Yismechu as well as covers of Eurovision hit ‘Abanibi” and Diaspora Yeshiva Band’s “Hakol Yoducha.” There are also two previously unreleased tracks: “Ohr Chadash” and “Shivti”. Recorded in the '80's, this album holds up very well today.

Moshe Skier - Rock of Sages

Also included in the review package with the Kabbalah Kollection, this album is what would have been Kabbalah 3, had funding come through. It features Mark Moshe Skier originals as well as one song by Izzy Botnick and one co-written with Lenny Solomon. You can check out audio samples of this in the widget below too.

Here's a widget with samples of those albums reviewed above that are available for download through