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:


Monday, October 19, 2009

From the mailbag...

Pinchos Vorst forwards a link to a video of his impersonations of Chassidic pop singers like Ohad!

E writes:
A rebbe at Reishit tweeted these links "בזכות ר' לוי יצחק בן שרה סאשע"
Personally, I find it a little off putting and inappropriate to be playing guitars at a holy rabbis grave (or anyones grave for that matter).
Personally, I'm more perturbed by the spelling of the village name.

Anon writes:
"Shwekey, Ad Bli Dai" is the understatement of the century ;)
Truth in advertising.

Finally, a press release.
Nulite Music, Inc. proudly announces the release of Sy Kushner's second CD of original Jewish music. Performing with some of New York's top klezmer musicians, Sy takes us on a mulifaceted musical journey but always with Jewish sensibilities. So fasten your seat belt and come along for the musical journey.

Also available are books for C and Bb instruments with the music from the album.

10/19 Link Dump

The Jewish Music Report looks at some "Alternative Jewish Music: Great Artists." There are many frum artists with international reputations. It's nice to see a site that primarily focuses on commercial Chassidic pop music take a look at some of these artists.

While we're on the subject... this is a good place to mention Rabbi Greg Wall's installation as rabbi of the Sixth Street Synagogue in NYC. To celebrate, the shul is having a concert retrospective, looking at Wall's musical work over the past twenty years. Several of his projects will be performing, including Hassidic New Wave, Later Prophets, Klezmerfest, Unity Orchestra, and more.

The installation/concert (and Greg's 50th B-day celebration) will take place at the Sixth Street Synagogue on October 31, 2009 at 8:30pm. The address is 325 E. 6th St. (between 1st and 2nd) and admission is $18 at the door.

Neshama Carlebach's new record, a collaboration with the Green Pastures Baptist Church choir is now out. You can listen to the album and buy ithere.

Marching on Mein Shtetl Yass. Check out their other clips, these guys are good! The leader of that band, Na'or Carmi has a new collaboration with clarinetist Chilik Frank that's also well worth checking out. You can hear a clip off that project here.

Over at DovBear, a post on Simchat Torah: " Why don't the Women Dance?

David J. Hahn posts on "Motivating Musicians as a Bandleader."

Hey, it's another Ortho boys choir!The Yitzy Bald Boys Choir.

Ha'aretz interviewed Menachem Philip in an article on people who've left Orthodoxy,"The Ties That Continue To Bind."Ha'aretz interviewed Menachem Philip.
Filmmaker Meni Philip, formerly a well-known famous Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) singer, who recently presented his short film "Sinner," at the festival in Venice, says he is sometimes suddenly "thrown back" to his previous self. For example, when he choked up upon hearing a song by Haredi singer Mordechai Ben David on the radio. Philip himself recently embarked on a journey to learn about secular music, and discovered the Beatles and classical music. He has also shed any "religious jargon," as he describes it, in his own singing. But, in spite of everything, he admits, there is Haredi music that touches him deeply, "because of your childhood. It makes your stomach do flip-flops."

I met with Philip, who has been "outside" for nine years, to discuss a heartrending scene in his documentary film "Let There Be Light" (2007), which recounts his personal story and that of his brother, who also left religious life. The scene takes place at a Purim party organized by Hillel, a nonprofit Israeli organization catering to those who leave the ultra-Orthodox community. Philip performed one of his melancholy hits from the past - "Rabbi Ishmael Said" - before an audience of people who were no longer Orthodox. Dressed in totally secular clothes, in some cases to an extreme because of Purim, they sang along with him, in tears.

"Usually those who have recently left religion refuse to hear such songs," says Philip, "but it was Purim and it was appropriate. After all, I used to be their singer, when they were ultra-Orthodox. They simply melted."
Finally, some video over at Vos Iz Neias ... " MBD: Zealots Slander Jewish Concerts With Fabricated Lies."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Jewish Music Promo Style

Teruah compares two different approaches to album promo copy. Methinks he gives way too much credit to the Chasidi News approach. I don't think too many people in the frum world find those informative either. I know that I usually don't, and I know who most of the people being name-dropped are.

Of course, Chasidi News' poor Hebrew to English manglings don't help things, but even the Hebrew album previews usually contain little if any useful information. It's even worse in context, where an email features twenty or so new albums all featuring "the best of composers" and "hits".

One of these days, we just might have to do a "Best of Chasidi News" post.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Name Your Own Price

Taking a page from Radiohead, Lenny Solomon and Shlock Rock have just released their new album of original English jewish music as a "name your own price" download.

Hope this works for them!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Want to Check Out A Chassidish Simchas Beis Hashoeva or Two?

Barring a last-minute gig, I'm open tomorrow night. Anyone interested in checking out some chassidic Simchas Beis Hashoeva celebrations in Brooklyn tomorrow evening? If so, please be in touch.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

From the mailbag...

Dovid Kerner writes:
Previously, you were kind enough to post the words to the old country classic Sukkalaya. I'm happy to report that an actual recording has been found - right in my house! Sukkalaya

May you and your readers have a Hank'in Chag Sameach.
Ron Benvenisti writes:
Happy to announce that the Lakewood Music Program I've been slaving at for the youth, with my own sweat equity has gotten offical notice. This summer the Township picked up the tab and this fall we will be doing a 3 day a week intro for keyboards at the High School and Community Center. A brand new multi-million dollar facility is being built on Cedarbridge (near the Parks & Recreation Headquarters and Blue Claws Stadium) where I hope to run a full fledged program for all levels, ages and instruments in 2010. Thanks to the incessant support of Citizen of the Year, Maestro Wilbur Wittemann of the Lakewood Jazz Ensemble, Jeff Shapiro, Director of Parks & Recreation, those on the Township Committee and so many other people of goodwill, passion and committment to music as education and leadership tool par excellence. This will be non-sectarian and free with, get this - separate entrances and two kitchens! My only snag is some personal issues and being in Virtua-Marlton Hospital with a rare liver disorder. Winning some battles in it and hope to win the war. Please daven for a refual shelaima for yours truly, play a little tune for Aharon Ben Simcha ( and I wish all of you a Gmar Tov and hope to be out of here and back home as soon as possible.

PS: I would love to see us network to do a major Hakaras HaTov benefit concert for my dear friend (and many of you to) Yosi Piamenta. Everyone has been touched by Yosi, who single-handedly changed the face of Jewish Music as we know it through passion, dedication and real Mesirat Nefesh. This started over 35 years ago and I can't think of a single artist since then who has not been influenced by this giant. Think about it. I'm a little tied up (tubed up - to be exact) right now but I think we owe it to the guy and it would be a major event. Please think about it, and if any producer types out there (all you guys know this man and what I am saying is true and that he deserves it now) can get the snowball rolling please put the sweat into it.... May we all be inscribed in the "Real" Real Book......
PT writes:
Here's one for the Poskim:

I was recording a song for a nice young fella (when did I get to be an AK?) and he used the "-nai" word instead of the "-shem" word in his lyric. He did this in the context of saying a whole tfillah (the end of "Adon Olam"). I asked him if he'd reconsider changing to "shem" to avoid controversy.

Makes me wonder about a few things. I know that non-Orthodox performers have no compunction about using the "-nai". I've heard Orthodox performers use "hamonai" instead to keep the proper sound. Is there actually a halachic issue with avoiding the "-nai" word, since it itself just means "my Lord" and is not an actual Name of G-d? If you use an entire pasuk or prayer, is it then OK?

The other issue is, if we then decide to ERASE the lyric and replace with "adoshem", is there now an issue of erasing a Holy name?? All I can say is, I guess it's a good thing Protools is NONDESTRUCTIVE!
Shloime Lichter writes:
My name is Shloime Lichter, I put up this website Keren Yitzchok Isaac for a friend of mine who passed away at the age of 45 while waiting for a Heart Transplant. Leaving behind an almanah and 10 unmarried children with no means of any financial income.

I would like to ask if you would be able to post a link or banner or a little write up on your blog in order to help us raise funds.

Or you may donate by visiting this site.

P.S. Please forward this email to all your fellow bloggers and friends who may be able to help us out.

Tizku Lemitzvohs and A Ksiva Vachasima Tovah

Thank You
Shlome Lichter
IT Support YVY

10/1/09 Link Dump

Dov Bear asks: "Why are we so liberal about our liturgical music?"

Shemspeed is giving away free downloads of a couple o' tracks off of Diwon and Dugans 'Dreams in Static" release.

Chassidic singer Michoel Schnitzler has a new CD out. Here's a remake/update(if you can call it that) of the "Rabbi's Sons" classic hit "Rabos Machshavos." More road trip material.

This might come in handy for wedding guests. Is that off-key wedding singer getting on your nerves? Spare yourselves and all the other guests by tuning his vocals for him using your iPhone.

This title says it all: "Reb Abish: Today’s Music is a Cholent Pot; Many Songs Are Superficial." Naturally, none of the ones he sings. He thinks.

Over at Chasing the Fat Man: "What I really should have said..."

That's not an orchestra! Its Synthesiser Patel.