Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Off The Review Stack: Pitom, Josh Nelson, Yitzy Spinner, Craig Taubman's Lights

Off the review stack...

Yoshi Fruchter's Pitom

This disc is composer/guitarist Yoshie Fruchter's debut recording on the Tzadik record label.

This disc sounds as though members of The Ramones, Sonic Youth, and one lone violinist were the only ones to turn up for a klezmer jam session with Elvin Jones. And turn up they do! Fun for those who appreciate guitar skronk and klez-influenced riffage. Like me!

The rhythm section here is the one from Danny Zamir's former group Satlah; Shanir Ezra Blumenkrantz on electric bass and Kevin Zubek on drums. Violinist Jeremy Brown joins Fruchter to round out the band and the lead guitar and violin lay down some nice tight unison lines and intriguing improv over strong grooves, while the bass 'n drums express themselves in the background, although they too step forward at times, especially when the bass doubles the guitar & violin.

Fave tracks include "The Robe of Priestly Proportions" Parts I and II, Shikora, and Davita. "Freigel Rock" sounds like a nicely demented take on the Adam's Family Theme.

This album goes along nicely with Aaron Alexander's Midrash Mish Mosh. Double bill, anyone?

The Pitom website is here.

Amazon has it here:

Josh Nelson Project: Lift
Josh Nelson sounds like an updated Craig Taubman. Writing in a similar style, Nelson blends liturgy and original lyrics expressing positive Jewish messages with an updated pop-rock sound. The arrangements blend synths and loops with pop guitars to create hooky J-pop.

Did I mention this is an upbeat Jewish pop-rock album? The lyrics seem overly earnest at times, but I liked this one. Fave tracks include the Middle-Eastern flavored title track "Lift" and the funky closer "Hallelujah."

Josh's website is here.

Also of note, The Josh Nelson Project will be appearing on the Craig Taubman PBS special "Lights! Celebrate Hanukkah Live in Concert," which will run on PBS this December. (See next review for more about that project.)

Amazon has it here:

Lights: Celebrate Hanukkah Live in Concert

This disc of a Craig Taubman produced PBS Hanukkah special for this year's upcoming festivities -- it will air on PBS in December-- is an odd one.

The concert and album feature appearances by Alberto Mizrahi, Craig Taubman, Mare Winningham, Jewish Gospel singer Joshua Nelson as well as Josh Nelson, Michelle Citrin, Dave Koz, and the Klezmatics.

The set includes some strange choices -- like Dave Koz's easy listening treatment of that old Hanukkah classic "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Personally, I'd have preferred to have the Klezmatics and Joshua Nelson's collaboration on "Ale Brider" from that concert instead. If you've ever wondered what Dave Koz and the Klezmatics would sound like playing on the same track, this is likely to be your only chance, as all the performers join in on the requisite finale of Hanukkah 'O Hanukkah.

I had high hopes for this one, based on the lineup. Unfortunately, the Klezmatics perform their Woody Guthrie Hanukkah songs, which I find disappointing, especially when compared to their Grammy-winning "Wonder Wheel" Guthrie material. Joshua Nelson also disappoints. It's difficult to do a non-hokey version of I Had A Little Dreidl and his Gospel take on the old chesnut comes off as corny. His Hiney Ma Tov works much better.

There are an awful lot of non-Hanukkah songs on this disc, considering it's supposed to be a holiday disc.

I liked Cantor Mizrahi's version of "Ocho Kandelikas." In general, I like his singing here, but on many of the songs, the arrangements don't do his voice justice. Michelle Citrin does a nice contempo-folk cover of "Don't Let The Light Go Out" and Mare Winningham does a pretty acoustic version of Hanerot Hallalu with a really nice fiddle solo.

Check out audio samples on Amazon and form your own opinion on this one.

Amazon has it here:

Yitzy Spinner: you and i

This is a slickly produced Chassidic pop record. On the surface, this seems like a formulaic Hassidisco album, complete with the cheesy English ballad that is de riguer for these kinds of productions. But, it's not exactly a cookie-cutter "Brooklyn JM" release. Vocalist Yitzy Spinner composed all of the material himself and as result connects to the material well. Spinner sings nicely throughout and the arrangements are a cut above the usual for this genre. In particular, Mike Boxer contributes some nice vocal arrangements.

Followers of the genre will notice that Spinner goes the extra mile production and presentation-wise; making things a touch more sophisticated and thought-out, compared to many of his peers. This is a nice solo debut Chassidic pop album. Of course, Spinner has years of experience singing with the Miami Boys Choir as a child and performing at weddings with a many local simcha bands, so this is not really his first album.

If you're not a fan of the Chassidic pop music genre, this will not seem much different than the usual, but it's worth a listen and might make a good entry point for those looking to discover more about the genre.

Yitzy's website is here and you can download a free remix of "Mi Sheshiken" from the site.