Jewish Music Blog

July 17, 2006

AKA Pella Umacha – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 5:50 pm

Just in time for the 3 weeks, AKA Pella released a single Umacha, which is available as a free download from Sameach Music here. The arrangement style is very similar to the album Premium Blend, with vocal drums, bass, and distortion guitar (my review here). Unlike the album though, this song uses rhythm distortion guitar extensively. Often when distortion guitar is used, vocals mixed to little more than a sine wave are used to compliment the guitar, which sounds excellent. This track doesn’t sound as polished as the Premium Blend tracks, but they still did a very good job. For example, the main vocal on the first high part at 1:35 sounds very nasal, and at 2:17 and 3:36 the distortion guitar on the minor I chord sounds muffled and too distorted. Also, the beginning of the song has very low background oohs, so if you wanted to listen to this track in a car, you would constantly have to adjust the volume. But, these things are very minor and the track overall is excellent. As always, although the lyrics are in line with the 3 weeks, the arrangement may be a little too good.

The song Umacha is from Yehuda!’s album Oh Yerushalayim. The low part of the song is actually a Chris de Burgh song called the The Snows of New York. CD Eichler sent me the jacket to the album which states that the track is arranged by CD Eichler, Yossi Rotbard, from Yossi and Yerachmiel, as well as Ed Boyer. Additional harmonies were arranged by Mo Kiss and Ed Boyer, and the featured vocalists on this track are Elie Ganz, CD Eichler and Yoel Horowitz.

Updates 7/19/06: AKA Pella has an additional website located at akapella.net which features a new video for the single. The video has background music, but is in much better taste than the previous video.

Commenters to this post have pointed out that Umacha is based around the Scorpion song Wind of Change. The intro, bridge and final interlude are carefully modeled after this song.

Update 7/21/06: It seems that AKA Pella has taken down their controversial video, most probably in no small part because of the comments on this blog.

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June 23, 2006

Sruli Ginsberg Oz Yibakeh – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 5:42 pm

Oz Yibakeh is Sruli Ginsberg’s second album (first was Aneini), and it falls under the genre of yeshivish music. Although this album doesn’t diverge significantly from the standard yeshivish sound, there’s something a little more emotional about this album, and it reflects itself in both the music, arranged by Sruli’s brother, Heshi, and the songs, which are composed by Lipa Shemltzer, Yishai Lapidot, R’ Hillel Palei, and other familiar names. The vocals for the most part are very lively and emotional, although they are sometimes inconsistent, especially towards the later songs on the album.

The strength of the songs lies in the fast songs, such as the freilach/rock Heimo, the rock song ChasidiShai, and slow freilach Chasdei. Heimo, composed by Lipa Shemltzer, is an atypical rock/freilach which has a tremendous amount of energy. The tune is great, and has the potential to be played at weddings. (I planned on attaching sheet music in .pdf format for Heimo, but I was unable to figure out how to do this in blogger. Does anyone know if attaching .pdfs is possible in blogger?) Chasdei is an above-average slow freilach, and the tune is emotional and the arrangement is original and compliments the vocals well. ChasidiShai, composed by Yishai Lapidot, is a niggun with no words, and is a very traditional tune, which is unusual for Lapidot. The tune has a great interlude with slap bass and then goes into a funky groove. The ballads for the most part are not as good as the fast songs.

The arrangements and tunes are more varied than most yeshivish albums. ChasidiShai has a 70s disco feel, with pitch bent strings, rhodes, and wah-wah guitar. Ein Aroch is arranged very well, with interesting chord changes in the intro, and a I7 chord before a V chord. The string section sounds very emotional, especially in the intro to Oz Yibakeh, which is unusual for a Jewish album where the string section usually sounds canned. All in all, there is a great deal of variety on this album.

Sruli’s vocals sometimes sound like Baruch Aboud, Yisroel Williger, Lipa and Yeedle, but the bottom line is that he has a unique voice. The only aspect of his singing I didn’t like is that when he bends into notes, they are often out of tune. This is especially apparent in the ballads.

Oz Yibakeh is a yeshivish album plus. The arrangements and tunes are slightly more sophisticated than usual, which makes for interesting listening.

Some pictures from this album are available here and here, and the track B’fi is available here towards the bottom of the page.

June 16, 2006

Yehuda Generations of Song – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 3:14 pm

It’s been a little over 4 years since Yehuda’s last album, Eftach Pi, and Generations of Song is a welcome addition to the Yehuda family. This album has everything that makes a Yehuda album great – tasteful arrangements and vocals, as well as classic Yehuda-style discos and ballads.

Generations of Song is arranged by Yehuda, and its sound is very similar to Eftach Pi, which unlike Yehuda’s earlier albums, uses real instruments as well as synth sounds. There are a couple of notable changes from Eftach Pi, though. Similar to Yehuda & Friends, several songs such as Shimu and Aleinu, have duets. Also, Yehuda steps up his vocals by singing higher notes more often. This album also includes the now popular Niggun Neshomele (aka Niggun Neshoma), and Yehuda’s version is done very well. The musicians have a chance to improvise, and the groove is just right. The song Chai Hashem has a great soft-rock groove, and Ana Avda is a Turkish hora which utilizes several world instruments. The title song is a gentle jazzy ballad which starts off with very tasteful smooth jazz piano covered by Yaron Gotfried. This is the best I’ve ever heard of Gotfried, who always seems a little too mechanical.

What I like most about Yehuda is that everything fits. What I mean by this is that ballads remain heartfelt ballads, and don’t transform into hard-rock ballads, and even his rockiest song, Psach Libi, doesn’t use heavy distortion guitar just for the sake of using distortion guitar. Another example of how everything fits is that the tunes fit the lyrics to tunes. Nachem is a ballad, and not a catchy rock song. Yehuda also uses the choir very creatively by switching parts of melodies from the choir to himself such as in Niggun Neshomele and Psach Libi, and by improvising over the choir.

Yehuda takes his significant musical experience and the result is an album that manages to surpass his previous albums. This album is a must for Yehuda fans, and even for some non-Yehuda fans.

May 5, 2006

AKA Pella Premium Blend – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 12:19 am

This year there were only two new acapella releases, and AKA Pella Premium Blend is certainly the most interesting of the two. Just to clarify – the group is named AKA Pella and the album is called Premium Blend, which goes along with the coffee theme. The jacket design is certainly unique, but I found the layout to be slightly clumsy. This is not a result of design, which was very well done by Chanan Baer, but seems to be a result of the plethora of ideas which the designer kind of had to patch together.

A quick overview of the album – almost all of the songs have non-Jewish music influences: Everything from Michael Jackson and Bryan Adams to Joseph and Technicolor Dreamcoat. Although this concept was used by Lev Tahor, AKA Pella takes this to a whole new level by using some actual non-Jewish tunes, such as Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair on song 2 Dror and Van Halen’s Right Now on song 9 Asher Boro. The sound of the album is very smooth, and is mixed excellently. Many of the songs use vocals to take the place of the instruments, and the vocal percussion sounds excellent.

This album only has one original tune, song 10 Raninu by Elchonon Majeski, and the rest are described on the jacket as “your favorite songs”. I think this was another interesting choice – many of these are actually not so well known, so characterizing them as favorite songs may be a little misleading. When I think of favorite Jewish songs, I think of over-played songs such as Yeedle’s Atah Bonim and Shalsheles’ Esa Einai. Perhaps they meant your favorite non-Jewish songs. Regardless, I think the song choices were excellent for this group. All of the tunes are solid, singable songs, and they are pleasant to listen to. Just a quick rundown of the non-Jewish influences: Song 1 uses Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama, Song 2 uses Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair, Song 3 uses the theme to Gilligan’s Island, Song 4 is Close Every Door from Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, Song 5 is based on Michael Jackson’s Will You Be There (thanks anonymoose), the intro and outro to Song 6 sounds like it came from extra-Jewish sources, Song 9 is Van Halen’s Right Now composed by David Roth, and the intro to Song 10 is Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do.

The songs were arranged primarily by John Clark and Ed Boyer of cb-production.com and Mike Boxer, with CD Eichler being the idea man. Although CD is listed in the album as the main arranger, I know CD personally, and although he is a musical person, he’s not a musician, and therefore there is absolutely no way he could have arranged bass lines, rhythm sections and chords in general. What must have happened is that CD gave Clark and Boyer the original albums with the songs, they wrote a preliminary arrangement, and then CD gave his input, and it was finally tweaked appropriately. I don’t mean to minimize CD’s role at all – the entire album was his idea and he implemented the idea excellently. I just want to give due credit to the arrangers.

The arrangements themselves usually use incorporate bass and drums, with rhythmic vocals taking the place of standard chord rhythm instruments such as guitar or keyboard. In song 1 and 9, Clark uses vocal guitar, which is basically vocals with distortion, which produces an interesting effect. There is very little choir-type harmonies, which generally utilize close three-part harmonies. Lev Tahor balanced the two while AKA Pella seems to have mostly phased out the kumsitz style. The background vocals in general are creatively swamped in effects, to the point that they sometimes sound like string lines such as in Raninu song 10. There are often vocal arpeggios which I highly doubt were actually sung. What most probably happened was that cb-productions sampled different vocals, or they used their own pre-recorded vocals samples, and then played these arpeggios from a keyboard. The arrangement to song 9, Asher-Boro-otherwise-known-as-Right-Now, is almost an exact copy, if not taken directly, from the Binghamton Crosby’s version of the same song. Listening to the end of this file confirms this. Clark and Boyer use panning very creatively, especially in Menucha V’Simcha. All in all, these arrangements are more in line with secular, college type acapella and it is refreshing to hear them in Jewish music.

Because of the complexity of the arrangements and their replacement of the roles of instruments, and because of the quality of the vocal percussion, as well as the methods of recording the background vocals, this album sounds almost as good as music, which some may not wish to listen to during sefirah and the 3 weeks.

There are 8 vocalists, and while none of them are professional singers, they do a nice job overall. Most of them are flooded in auto-tune and various other effects to make them sound larger than life. The music also sounds very gentle sometimes, even gentle enough to fall asleep to. Having said that, the vocalists do infuse energy into the songs when needed, and the vocals are tasteful and lack common annoyances prone to unprofessional vocalists.

There seems to have been some debate as to how much of the background vocals were actually sung by the main vocalists. The background harmonies are by no means simple, and given the relatively low production time (7 months) and the daunting task of learning and recording all those lines, it is more likely that most of them were sung by John Clark and Ed Boyer, who are credited on the album jacket as “additional vocals”. Also, Mike Boxer sang almost all of the background vocals on the track he arranged, track 7 Piah Pascha, and that leads me to believe that a similar pattern was followed for the rest of the tracks. Using additional vocalists on an album is by no means a new idea, but using it on an acapella album is. Part of the uniqueness of acapella music is that the talent of the vocalists went into every aspect of the music, and that isn’t apparent on this album. This album is more like a standard instrumental album in which the musicians play all of the music and the vocalists sing over that, but instead of musicians we have Clark and Boyer’s vocal tracks.

 

AKA Pella is a welcome addition to Jewish acapella, and is arranged and mixed beautifully. It may even sound too good for sefirah and the 3 weeks, which are supposed to be times of mourning. The album also draws heavily on non-Jewish music, which may not appeal to some, but it still manages to maintain its Jewish character.

 

March 23, 2006

Dovid Gabay LeGabay – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 3:13 pm

As I said in this week’s Sameach Music Podcast, LeGabay can be summed up in one word: energetic. Most of the fast songs on the album have a lot of energy and are arranged accordingly. My favorite fast songs are Tamshich, Havi’i, Mitzvah and Timche. Havi’i uses a tasteful jazz groove for the low part no doubt conceived of by drummer Russ McKinnon. Tamshich uses authentic sounding rock backed by Mckinnon’s driving drumming which puts Eli Gerstner’s rock to shame. The caveat of this is that the slow songs are just average and at times below average. Although the intros to the slow songs are nice, the songs themselves are for the most part very boring and unoriginal. The only exception to this is the 3/4 Av HaRachamim, but it sounds like a Shalsheles rip off including the obligatory Shalsheles-esque child vocalist, which takes away whatever originality it had.

A bit on the song Mah Tovu: The low part sounds like the type of song that would be played at a circus, not a wedding or a Jewish album. Not to mention the words: V’osu Li Mikdash V’shachanti B’sochom: And you shall make for me a temple and I will dwell amongst them. These words are used to introduce the construction of the Mishkan. I’m not sure the circus image fits into this. The intro to Mah Tovu sounds like an Eli Gerstner tune. The only redeeming quality to this song is the high part. Sometimes you just have to ask: Why did Gabay choose this song?

The arrangements take the standard Jewish sound, epitomized by Shwekey and copied by many others, and upgrade the sound to make it more sophisticated. This is mainly accomplished by the drumming of Russ McKinnon, a drummer for Tower of Power, and Yitzy Bald’s arrangements. McKinnon adds much needed originality, sophistication and taste to the Jewish drumming world, which was previously dominated by Ron Vered, Avi Avidani and Larry Steppler. McKinnon’s versatility is demonstrated by his grasp of the freilach feel in Mitzvah, which is usually difficult for non-Jewish drummers to pick up. McKinnon not only picked up the freilach feel; he nailed it. McKinnon’s fills and accents throughout the album are tasteful, original, and add a great deal to the album. Piano is covered by Yaron Gershovsky, but because of mixing issues, the piano is hard to discern in fast songs. (More on mixing later). In the intro to the song Avinu at 0:17, Gershovsky sounds the slightest bit off rhythm, which is the first time I’ve ever heard him of rhythm. LeGabay also has interesting instrumentation choices, such as accordion and bagpipes in the title song. Throughout the album the musicians (other than guitar) also get a chance to improvise.

I was actually a little disappointed in the vocals. I feel that Gabay could have done much more to the make the singing more memorable. Although Gabay sounds energetic most of the time, there are times when he sounds tired and worn out. Also, Gabay is sometimes sharp. Why not slap a bit of auto-tune to fix it up? I feel that Gabay should have taken more risks and sang with more originality such as singing tasteful runs and using more dynamics. He clearly has the talent and voice for it, so to not hear some more vocal versatility was disappointing. Gabay also doesn’t sing thirds above himself often. (After thinking about this, I realized that most of the songs actually revolve around the 5th of the chord, so the typical ‘thirds’ harmony [in the sense of the closest harmony above the melody] would actually be a 4th, which does not lend itself to the typical listeners common-sense harmonies.) The choir, arranged and conducted by Ari Goldwag, sounds a little less ‘typical yeshivish’, and is used a lot throughout the album to the point that it feels like the choir is singing more than Gabay. Ari Goldwag’s choir arrangements are clearly evident through his signature staccato choir hits, which I find annoying. Choir is not a percussive instrument. It would have been nice if Gabay sang vocal runs over the choir, but that never happened. The closest to this was Gabay singing simple melody over the choir, which isn’t very original.

The mixing on this album, covered by Shloimy Zeiger, leaves much to be desired, and this manifests itself over and over. In the first song Sos Asis, the drums conflict with the percussion to the point that the fills sound like a big mush. This is a clear example of when more is less: Just don’t use percussion! I guess the standard Jewish arranging book contains the rule to always use percussion, even when not needed. This fault is even more egregious due to the fact that Russ McKinnon is on drums whose playing negates any need for percussion. The piano throughout the album sounds wimpy due to attenuated lows and mids and raised highs. The way the piano sounds reminds me of Shalsheles 3, where the Yaron Gershovsky’s piano suffered from similar problems. The strings are also mixed badly, especially in the song Aneinu. The strings often sound like they were played from a bad synthesizer. In general, the instruments don’t sound like they have their own sonic space. Before I review an album I try to listen to it in a number of different settings: through my Sony MDR-7506 headphones and my car. I noticed all the afore-mentioned mixing issues through the 7506s. When I listened to it in my car, I had to turn the EQ all the way up to make it sound half decent. Mixing, mixing, mixing. . . mastering.

This album has several energetic rock songs, but suffers from severe mixing issues which subtract from what this album could have been.

March 19, 2006

Ari Boiangiu Rosh Ashmurot – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 11:55 am

Ari Boiangiu is a guitarist for NY’s Neshoma Orchestra and is renowned for his skill and versatility. This album sums Ari up and compacts it into 48 minutes 31 seconds.

What I like about this album is its originality, confidence, and refreshing sound. Boiangiu clearly had a purpose and direction with this album and he did a very good job at conveying it. The songs are singable and original, which is impressive considering that many of them have jazz influences. The album is arranged by both Boiangiu and Mark Fineberg, who arranged the Teva albums and also plays keys. The relatively simple instrumentation, in contrast to the complicated arrangements, consists of various guitars, Larry Steppler’s drums, Fineberg’s keys/organ and Dave Keyes’ bass. The recording and mixing is excellent – all the instruments are clearly distinguishable. The drums have a very live sound; they are not over-compressed and portray Steppler in a fresh way. The sound of this album is far from typically Jewish, but at the same time it still manages to maintain a distinctly Jewish feel.

The grooves throughout the album are in-the-pocket. Everything from Kumi’s hora, Al Naharos’ rock, to the various ballads all have well-thought out and tasteful grooves. Surprisingly this guitar-based album doesn’t seem overly rocky. Ari uses rock when necessary and not as a matter of course. Boiangiu’s versatility shines forth on every song: everything from rocking tapping solos to beautiful ballads playing is represented on this album.

Besides focusing on Ari’s guitar playing, this album also features Ari’s unique vocals. Although I don’t think Ari has the greatest voice, I applaud him for doing his thing. Ari’s vocals are energetic, in tune, and not typically Jewish.

This album is refreshing and relaxing to listen to. The songs are catchy, the grooves are moving, and the music is unique.

March 8, 2006

Matisyahu Youth – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 9:08 pm

I had some qualms about reviewing Matisyahu on my blog: after all, my blog is geared toward mainstream “yeshivish” Jewish music and Matisyahu is far from yeshivish music. But, I decided to take a crack at it because of his impact and popularity.

Let me start off with a disclaimer: I don’t like reggae or rap. Reggae is inherently primal and simple (which could explain its widespread appeal), and I prefer music with some degree of complexity and solidity.

Having said that, I figured that the entire album couldn’t be just reggae, could it? Yes and no. Some songs such as “Time of Your Song” and “Indestructible” have a hip hop/R&B sound, but they digress from that due to Matisyahu’s one dimensional vocal style. Vocals are perhaps the most important factor of an album and Matisyahu’s vocals, sung in a fake Jamaican accent, are often out of tune and are “projected” more than they are sung.

The instrumentation is very simple, and lacks variety. Due to great mixing, everything is in time, but the musicians themselves don’t have micro-timing, which reflects in the lack of solidity of the music. But this is exactly what Matisyahu was going for.

It’s not difficult to see why Matisyahu has such wide appeal – this music is exactly right for dancing in a bar a little (a lot?) high. But for mainstream Jewish music, this album has no relevance.

February 21, 2006

Lipa Keneinehora – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 10:02 pm

I’ve always expected a lot from Lipa’s albums because of his unique style. This album does have a couple of unique songs and arrangements, but on the whole I feel the album is pretty typical. Each song has different musicians and different arrangers, as well as a variety of composers, which in theory provides more variety, but with a couple of exceptions the arrangements are typically yeshivish sounding. The first song, Rabosi, is the most catchy fast song on the album. It is arranged by Ron Tichon who plays all the instruments except guitar which is covered by Singolda. This seems to be a pattern for Tichon – Shalsheles 3 was arranged by Tichon with the same configuration. Only Lipa could sing a song to the words Rabosi Nevarech; in his interview with JE Magazine, he explains why he used these words. The only other song which breaks new ground is the ballad Chalom Chalamti. The arrangement is excellent, from the rhythm section and string arrangements to the natural key change. The only sound which doesn’t fit into the arrangement is the choir, which sounds the same as any typical yeshivish album. Throughout the album, the music calls for a different sound of choir, but I’m constantly disappointed by the almost annoying yeshivish sound. Another example of good arranging is in the song Hut Bitachon. At 2:36, the groove changes and Lipa’s voice is altered with a very appropriate sound for the song. -If only the rest of the song had the same amount of energy as that 15 second bridge. Nish Im Shabbos has a jazz feel, but the song itself is not a jazz tune – merely a simple tune based around two chords arranged as a jazz tune. The arrangement is nice; it would have been nice if the song was too. I like the song Al Tadin – it has a certain drive to it.

A couple of things about the drummers on the album: Willard Tyson (Dyson?) who plays on songs 4 and 10 has, in my opinion, the best sounding set on the album, but his playing sounds like he’s holding back; I feel that his playing should have been a little more busy. Ron Vered in song 3 does an annoying triplet bass note figure which is distracting and very untasteful. He uses the same groove in Shwekey’s Yedid in the song Sameach. Rick Cutler plays on song 9 which is arranged by Yisroel Lamm. The words to this song are among the saddest words there are – so what is with the drum groove? This is clearly a decision by Lamm – Cutler has too much musical taste to play this groove on his own. The groove adds an extra 16th note in the bass drum, and consequently in the bass guitar, which should not be there. Yaron Gershovsky only covers piano on this song, and his level in the mix is barely audible, which greatly subtracts from this potentially emotional song.

To sum this album up in one sentence: There are a couple of arrangements in this album which make it stand out, as well as several arrangements which subtract from the direction and energy of the songs.

February 2, 2006

Shalsheles Junior – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 1:44 pm

Although this album is called Shalsheles, the only real connections it has to the previous Shalsheles albums are that the songs are composed by Yitzchok Rosenthal and Simcha Sussman occasionally sings background vocals and some lead. Other than that, this album really has little to do with previous Shalsheles albums. What really made the 3 Shalsheles albums unique, besides the songs, were Yisroel Lamm’s arrangements. In contrast, Shalsheles Junior is arranged by Ron Tichon. I think this was a good move – after 3 albums, the Shalsheles sound didn’t evolve and was just more of the same.

Interestingly, the only musical credits are ascribed to Tichon. This means one thing – low budget. Tichon had to arrange, play and record all of the music himself, which is no easy feat. Considering this, Tichon did a superb job on the music. He uses electronic sounds to fill the void left by the lack of real instruments, instead of trying to imitate real instruments with samples or keyboard sounds. I think this was another good move – if the music is not going to be totally real anyway, why not take advantage of the electronic element? The electronic sounds don’t sound too rocky or techno a la Eli Gerstner. Tichon also plays guitar, so both the electric and acoustic guitars on the album are real. Tichon’s keyboard playing is also very tasteful. Tichon’s choice of chords is also worthy of note. Some of his more original yet tasteful choices are in the high part Hisoriree and the low part of Ivdu. Had Tichon used the obvious choice (E, B, C#m, A instead of C#m7, Abm7, A, E) for the high part of Hisoriree, it would have been more noticeable that it sounds like Can You Feel the Love Tonight by Elton John. Tichon assisted in arranging Tek-Noy, which is evident from his signature pitch bent strings which he uses in Ilu Phinu and the Fast Medley. The beginning of the Fast Medley sounds like a funk Yamaha auto-accompaniment beat from one of their high end arranger keyboards, which is a credit to Tichon’s versatility. Tichon’s style in general is refreshing – I’d really like to hear an album arranged by him with real instruments.

The kids themselves sing like kids. What I mean is that the singing is often little more than just singing – there’s little soul and emotion behind the singing. There is one vocalist who clearly is a step above the rest – he’s the first singer on Ivdu and Shehashalom. The other kids aren’t bad, I just don’t think there’s must to their singing. Almost all of the singing is in tune, which is a result of good recording and auto-tune, and thankfully the auto-tune isn’t noticeable. Some of the background vocals sound out of tune, similar to the original Shalsheles albums. There are also several times where the rhythm of the vocals is noticeably off, such as the high part of Shehashalom at 3:48. A bit about Sussman’s singing: his voice clearly is associated with Shalsheles, so I understand why he sang. What I don’t like is that his background vocals are often too melodic and flooded with auto-tune which draws too much attention to the background and away from the foreground.

 

The songs are in general pretty nice. As with the previous Shalsheles albums, the real strength in songs lies in the ballads. Ivdu and Shehashalom are both excellent and original songs.

Tichon’s arrangements and the influx of new vocals makes Shalsheles Junior a refreshing change from the previous Shalsheles albums.

Update 6:10 PM: Ron Tichon informed me that Avi Singolda was the guitarist on Shalsheles Junior. I had assumed that because the only musical credits were ascribed to Ron that he had done all the music. Why not give credit where credit is due?

 

January 5, 2006

Lev Tahor 4 – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 8:27 pm

With all sequels the first question that comes to mind is: “does it bring anything new to the table, or is it more of just the same?” Regarding Lev Tahor 4, the answer is, a lot new. The sound of Lev Tahor 4 is dramatically different than Lev Tahor 2 – Lev Tahor’s previous music release. The arrangers are Leib Yaacov Rigler, who arranged Lev Tahor 2, as well as Jeff Horvitch who arranged the two Trax to Relax albums and Eli Schwebel, Lev Tahor’s main vocalist. This group of arrangers certainly had a lot of new ideas to add to this album – everything from 90s style pop in Chaveirim to film score like orchestral arrangements in Uvnei. Rigler’s style is evident in many of the string arrangements and vocal arrangements, while Horvitch’s style is clear from the synth drums as well as the atmosphere and bell sounds. Lev Tahor 2’s sound was full of great grooves, while Lev Tahor 4 is more concerned about large sounding orchestral soundscapes.

The rhythm section musicians are pretty standard – Yaron Gotfried on piano for 6 songs, Avi Singolda for guitars on every track, and a relative newcomer, Avi Avidani, on drums for 5 songs. The piano on the rest of the tracks are covered primarily by Jeff Horvitch, and I assume the drums fall under the heading of synths, again covered primarily by Horvitch. I would have actually preferred to have Horvitch or Rigler or Yaron Gershovsky, who’s conspicuously absent from this album, to cover keys on the entire album and the use of a different drummer with more groove. Yaron Gotfried is an excellent pianist with great skill and proficiency and he is undoubtedly a great classical player and sight reader, but when it comes to Jewish music which is many respects is more like jazz in its interpretation, Gotfried seems stale. Everything from his lack of dynamics to his voicings doesn’t add much drive or emotion to the songs he plays. On the songs he does play piano, the piano is barely noticeable (except of course ballads where the arrangement is based around piano). Although this can be blamed on arrangement, I don’t think this is the case because of the way Gotfried plays on other albums, the fact that on songs which piano is covered by someone else the piano adds much more, and the fact that Yaron Gershovsky added so much more to the songs he played on in Lev Tahor 2. The same goes for Avi Avidani. His drumming is tight and solid, but his fills are repetitive and he doesn’t have that “extra something”. I also disagree with the mixing of the drums. I prefer tighter sounding and more compressed drums, not the big sounding sound which seems to pervade Jewish music, with a couple of exceptions. Again my disappointment with Avidani’s sound can be an arrangement decision.

The songs themselves aren’t as memorable as Lev Tahor 2, but are still pleasant to listen to. 8 out of 11 songs are ballads. I’m a little disappointed at the small number of fast tunes – just to even things out if for no other reason. I suppose the large number of ballads fits into the arrangers’ concern about orchestral soundscapes. The catchiest song on the album is Im Lavan Garti, an almost Latin disco. The second song, Moshe, is a ballad which really seems to get a point across. The piano sound and rhythm remind on a certain pop boy-band’s incomplete popular single. The song Chaveirim is more like a ballad than rock or disco. The intro to Avinu, number 4, is the theme to Shrek, but no credit is given. Auto-tune is noticeable throughout this song on one of the vocalists, especially at 2:35. I guess that vocalist had a bad voice day. On the subject of vocals, many of the songs have extremely high vocals, which I don’t particularly care for. Song 6, Atah Echod, introduces the punchy horn section. Gut Shabbos has an interesting, mysterious sounding intro and leads directly into Shrias HaLev, an aptly titled song which seems to be a continuation of the previous song. The hora Kol Hami’oneg is the final fast song, sounds a little like a Yehuda! song and uses interesting clapping sounds for percussion. Songs 10 and 11 have large orchestral arrangements. The intro to U’venei sounds like it could have led into a fast song, but it leads into a ballad.

Lev Tahor 4 doesn’t just pick up where Lev Tahor 2 left, it sets out on a new path. The music is dramatically different, and many of the songs get a point across. The arrangement is augmented by Jeff Horvitch, and the music is balanced – more attention was given to the music as a whole and the direction of the songs from an arrangement perspective as opposed to just throwing together a bunch of musicians and having them take turns playing sections.

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