Sunday, July 03, 2005

CD Reviews in the manner of Hillel (standing on one foot)

After the Young Scientist was born, I stopped listening to music and started listening to news and talk radio. I really felt a need to hear an adult speaking voice in my home when my husband wasn’t there. I also found that multitasking—in this case, listening to music and doing anything else that required thought—was difficult. But I’ve decided, of late, to give it another try. So, the last time I was in a Judaica store, I cleaned out the CD racks. Here are my impressions of my purchases.

The Best of Shlomo Carlebach
The arrangements of many of the earlier songs on this album are way too heavily orchestrated and too “Miami Men’s Choir” for my personal taste. If you want to hear the real Shlomo, check out the live performances of "Od Yishama," "Adir Hu," "Ki Mitzion," and "U-vau HaOvdim" recorded here, with just him and a band and the audience clapping along—Shlomo even stops smack in the middle of "Adir Hu" to help the audience learn the "response" part of the call-and-response portion (“kel b’nei). Now that’s the Shlomo Carlebach that I want always to remember.

Shlock Rock 4: Lenny and the Shlockers
This wasn’t “Songs of the Morning,” the Shlock Rock album that Mark, er, PT, er, Moshe Skier (Man oh Manishevitz, that man has almost as many names as I have :) ) had said that I would probably appreciate—I’ll have to get that one here But it was the only Shlock Rock album in the store that had Mark’s photo on it. Unfortunately, the only song of Mark’s that’s included, "Baruch Hashem/Blessed is G-d," was recorded here in an arrangement that he, himself, doesn’t care for. Bummer. Bottom line on the album as a whole, in my opinion: Too much “schtick” (comic bits), too much kiruv (kiruv [roughly translated, ‘cause my Hebrew’s rough, “bringing near”] = an attempt to encourage Jews to become more religiously observant), not enough music.

On the plus side, "Mizmor Shir" and "Am Yisroel Chai" are good songs, so it’s not a total loss.

Neshama: Journey (singer: Neshama Carlebach)
I would describe the music on this album as jazz-influenced rock versions of Neshama’s father Shlomo Carlebach’s music. The music is quite good, though Neshama's voice is a bit more breathy and nasal than I would prefer. (I keep wishing she’d literally open her mouth more when she sings. In that respect, she reminds me of my hard-of-hearing son, who has the same problem, even after sixteen years or so of speech therapy. For years, I’ve been joking with him that, if he keeps speaking with his mouth shut, I’m going to crank open his jaw with a crowbar. Naturally, he ignores me. Sigh.) To be fair, Neshama Carlebach comes by her close-mouthed nasality honestly—this sound is quite typical of chazzanim (cantors) of Eastern European Ashkenazi origin (my own ancestors' neighborhood, so I think know of what I speak).

My favorite song is "Min Hametzar," which is a real beauty.

I think this music would be more readily appreciated by adults than by children.

The Water in the Well (singer: Debbie Friedman)
Debbie Friedman’s is the kind of straightforward singing style that I, myself, try to use when I’m leading my Junior Congregation kids in Ein Kelokeinu, Aleinu, and Adon Olam, though, obviously, I’d give my left arm—and I’m left-handed—to have a voice even half that good. Her musical style is folk-rock and/or adult-pop-rock. She’s a bit heavy on the “let us now praise Jewish women,” which won’t kill anyone—I thoroughly enjoy "Devorah’s Song." (Caveat: She uses Ado_ _ _ _, rather than HaShem or Adoshem, and doesn’t use a k in Elokeinu.) The music is really good, and the fast songs are fun to sing along with.

"Bishivah shel Mala" is certainly out of the ordinary. It isn't every day that one hears (a variation of) the prayer before Kol Nidre on a popular-music album.

I think this album would be enjoyed equally by kids, parents, and grandparents.

The Diaspora Collection (Diaspora Yeshivah Band—a two-CD set)
Mark recommended this set, for which I can only say, “Rav todot (Many thanks)!!!” These CDs are, far and away, the best of the CDs that I bought that day. Founded in 1975 and long since disbanded, the Diaspora Yeshiva Band consisted of five baalei teshuva (returnees to Orthodox Judaism) who brought their country-and-folk-rock music with them when they came back into the fold. I don’t think there’s a single song on either CD that I don’t like. Most striking are probably the hard-core country pieces “L’oro,” "T'ka B'shofar Gadol"—it isn't every day that one hears a song with both a shofar and a banjo in it—and the half-English, half Hebrew “Zion Mountain is Real/VaHavieinu L’Tzion” on the first CD and the combination Renaissance-sounding/rock song “Sukat Shalom” and combination Middle Eastern (Sefardi?)/Renaissance-sounding “Ki Lo Naeh” on the second CD.

This band had the major advantage of having at least five guys in it—apparently, there were as many as eight guys at times—most of whom played more than one instrument and, evidently, sang, as well. And sang well. And when you get, say, three-five of them singing multi-part harmony—check out the opening and closing vocal chords to “Ki Lo Naeh”—well, yours truly the harmony freak just gobbles it up.

And now, for a little surprise: Guess what Mark brought with him?!

Moshe Skier Band, live (in rehearsal and in performance, March 2005)
The first thing I noticed was that the CD had 21 songs. That’s a lot of songs. (Not that I'm complaining. :) ) The minute I started the CD, I realized why: This is the Speedy Gonzalez album. :) The faster pace works great for all the songs except “Haazina” and “Lecha Ezbach,” which are too pretty to rush, in my opinion, though I do think that “Lecha Ezbach” benefits from having been trimmed a bit. The slightly different arrangements and harmonies are certainly interesting—you never know what’s coming next. (On the other hand, some of the vocal harmonies are missing in action. Boo hoo.)

I must admit that this version of “Ashrei” was a reality check, the first time I heard it. I’d never given much thought to the financial aspects of running a band. Oy. Well, duh, of course you have to have alternate musical arrangements available for those gigs for which the folks shelling out the bread won’t pay for a fourth musician. Sigh. I really do miss the keyboard, but that’s the way it goes, sometimes.

On the other hand, here’s a real treat: It’s an English-language song called "Eishes Chayil," to the tune of—get this—“Pretty Woman.” (Bass players rule!!!) The minute I heard it, I schlepped the Punster out of his office/the Young Scientist’s room and insisted that he join me with an ear to the speakers. The lyrics—about Devorah, Yael, Channah, and Rachav—are really neat. The only quibble I have with this song is the ear-to-the-speakers part: Mark, the next time you record this, please do your fans a huge favor and turn up your MICROPHONE!!! We know you love your bass, bro, but these lyrics are too much fun to drown out. You rock! :)



Blogger Eliyahu said...

thinking you would enjoy C. Lanzbom & Noah Solomon, sometimes aka Soulfarm. another CD i really love is The Sefirot by Rabbi James Stone Goodman. your blog is great, as usual.

Sun Jul 03, 09:40:00 AM 2005  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

The Ayshes Chayil tune is a Shlock Rock Song. That album is VERY RAW!

Mon Jul 04, 02:20:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Raw it may be, but it's good stuff!

Hmm, one overly "schtick-y" arrangement of Baruch Hashem in return for Eishes Chayil. Maybe you should think of it as a compensatory trade. :)

Tue Jul 05, 12:56:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Er, Mark, I meant that the other way around--they practically *owed* you “Eishet Chayil” after what they did to “Baruch Hashem.”

Raw or not, Adon Olam and Tzaddik Katamar are neat. :) And Borchi Nafshi sounds *great* at the faster pace! (Of course, it goes without saying that “Baruch Hashem” sounds a lot better on *this* CD than on *theirs.*)

Tue Jul 05, 02:02:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

eliyahu, I created a file listing recommended music. I’m keeping records for the next time I have a fit of wealth. Your CD recommendations are in it, along with Mirty’s. She recommended the band Mah Tovu because they have a song on their album "Only This" that includes a quote from Pirkei Avot (Verses of the Fathers) that I had quoted in a previous post, “u-vamakom she-ein anashim, hishtadeil lihyot ish (and in a place where there are no decent human beings, strive to be a decent human being.)"

And thanks. Glad you’re enjoying my blog.

Tue Jul 05, 02:03:00 AM 2005  

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