Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In Review: Eight Recent Albums

Clearing out the review stack…

Prodezra – Beats L’shem Shamayim

This disc, by beat master Rueben “Prodezra Beats” Fromey, is kicking. Fromey, best known for his recent “Change” single featuring Describe and Y-Love (which is included here), knows how to drop a groove. These beats are raw. No slick over-production here. Just good solid urban beats.

The production is pure hip-hop. No techno (or what passes for techno on most frum pop records). R&B meets Chassidic meets Hip-hop.

Fave tracks include “Change,” “Stood At Sinai” and “The South Nigun,” which features samples of old-time Lubavitch bandleader/singer Eli Lipsker on vocals.

Fromey’s website/myspace is here

Amazon has it here:

Greg Wall’s Later Prophets – Ha’orot

Bassist Dave Richards joins the original Later Prophets trio, Greg Wall, Shai Bachar, and Aaron Alexander, for their sophomore outing; a collaboration with spoken word artist Rabbi Itzhak Marmorstein, featuring musical settings of Rav Kook’s poetry and nigunim. Rabbi Marmorstein reads Rav Kook’s poetry in a combination of the original Hebrew and English translation, while the band plays jazzy grooves behind him. The album also includes two instrumental arrangements of nigunim composed by Rav Kook, ZT”L.

It’s a Beatnik Beit Midrash, where the Rabbis (Marmorstein and Wall) school listeners in Rav Kook’s writings as well as in the art/power of the Jazz groove. Come learn!

If you’ve ever wondered what a frum poetry slam might sound like, spin this one.

Amazon has it here:

Gershon Veroba – 2nd Impressions

Gershon Veroba’s 2nd Impressions is a follow-up in his successful Impressions series wherein he takes well-known pop/rock songs, writes educational Jewish-themed lyrics to them, and performs them as close to the original as he can. Usually, that’s pretty spot on. The arrangements are faithful to the originals, and Veroba’s vocal stylings usually capture the essence of the original artists’ performances.

This type of Jewish edutainment, popularized by Shlock Rock, can often be corny, but working within the premise, Veroba manages to mostly stay away from the clichés of the genre.

This record also features several guest vocalists, including two boys who fill for female vocalists on “Run From the Egyptians,” a spoof of the Bangles “Walk Like An Egyptian” and Tom Bowes, who covers a rewrite of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

Veroba’s website is here.

CD Baby has the album here.

Lorin Sklamberg and Susan McKeown – Saints and Tzadiks

On "Saints and Tzadiks," Grammy-winning vocalists Loring Sklamberg and Susan McKeown, who won for the Klezmatics’ “Wonder Wheel”, continue their collaboration on a set of Yiddish and Irish songs.

The vocalists are well matched with each other as well as with the material. There are a number of medleys of similar themed Irish and Yiddish songs.

The arrangements are sparse and compelling and the backup band, which includes klezmer violinist Jake Shulman-Ment and Aidan Brennan on acoustic guitar, among others, is first-rate.

My fave track is “Oakum.” But it’s a tough call.

“Prayer for the Dead” blends “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye,” “Kh’bin Oysgeforn Felder,” and “Deus Meus Adiuva Me.” Powerful stuff!

The lyrics on “Father and Son” are intense and Sklamberg sings it solo, without any musical backing, letting the words speak for themselves. It’s amazingly and sadly just as relevant today as much as when it was originally penned.

Don’t miss this one!

The duo’s MySpace is here.

Amazon has it here:

Yiddishe Cup – Klezmer Guy

This album features eight live tracks and six studio tracks by the Cleveland-based Yiddishe Cup.

The material includes Chassidic music, klezmer and Balkan music, some Yiddish and English singing, a cover of Halleluja (the Israeli version) featuring Hawaiian lap steel guitar, a klezmer-style medley of three Bernard Herrman tunes, and an original Klezmer composition by keyboardist Alan Douglass, and a beat-box DJ mashup of klezmer with hip hop.

In other words, this one is all over the place by design.

There are a lot of great klezmer bands out there, but not too many cover and update the Borsht-belt style humor of Mickey Katz et al. To me, the humorous songs and arrangements are Yiddish Cup’s strength, and with this disc, I find myself wishing the band had included more of that on this record.

There are some fun moments, like the tribute to Dutch prog-rock group Focus on Anim Zemiros. It doesn’t really match the rest of the arrangement, but the absurdity makes it fun. I feel like the band might have been better served recording some more of that material.

Also, the live sound on the recording doesn’t showcase the band’s strengths. I much prefer their last record. That said, Klezmer Guy is a good encapsulation of where Yiddishe Cup’s head is at these days. (I couldn’t resist that one. Get it? Cup. Head. Oy!)

My review of their previous release, “Meshugene Mambo,” is here: Klezmer with a Slice of Wry

Yiddishe Cup’s website is here.

Amazon has it here:

Kol Noar Boys Choir

This is the Kol Noar Boys Choir's debut album. I’m not a fan of the boys choir genre. Understandably, I was skeptical of this one. The mostly R&B inflected pop is not my favorite taste, but it is well-executed here. The most notable part of this Ortho-pop choirs’ approach is the lack of screeching/shouting that typifies the genre. Producer Mo Kiss arranges to the boys’ strengths, featuring smooth-sounding solos and harmonies.This is a much more musical approach that makes for a significantly improved listening experience when compared with his competition. You won’t hear any straining on this one. If you like frum boys choirs, but could do without the screeching kids, this one is worth a spin.

Kol Noar’s website is here.

Amazon has it here:

Ben Epstien – Shirei Halevi’im

This independent release by singer/songwriter Ben Epstein features his indie-pop settings of the Shirei Halevi’im, the “Songs of the Day” which the Levi’im (Levites) would sing in the Beit Hamikdash (Temple.)

Epstein writes sweet hooky melodies, and his understated vocals make for pleasant listening. The light production lets the melodies and vocals stand on their own. No fancy arranging tricks here. Just intelligent Jewish guitar pop.

Fave tracks include “Sunday,” and “Wednesday” which has a Spin Doctors influence.

A hidden bonus track sets Ana B’koach to Shlomo Carlebach’s “Lord, Get Me High.”

CD Baby has the album here.

Klezmerfest – Life of the Party

This is Klezmerfest’s second album and the quintet is in fine form here. Of particular note are outstanding performances by accordionist Zevy Zions and trumpeter Jordan Hirsch, but the entire group, which includes drummer Aaron Alexander, bassist Brian Glassman, and clarinetist Greg Wall, is excellent.

Zions’ original “Cape May Bulgar” showcases his virtuosity and his strong understanding of klezmer. This tune and Aaron Alexander’s original contribution “Blagan Balaban” fit nicely alongside the group’s renditions of mostly well-known klezmer dance melodies.

Alexander’s statement of the head of “Fun Tashlikh” on solo drum set is a neat creative touch as is bassist Brian Glassman’s bowed melody playing on "Kishinever Bulgar.”

This is a well-played trad-style Klez album with a few modern touches around the edges. You will want to dance.

Update: Amazon has the album here: