As I've mentioned any number of time, I'm a big fan of niggunim. As such, you'd think I'd have a pile of fantastic recordings to thrown on anytime I get the urge to listen to some. Sadly...not true at all. Partially, I'm fine with this. To a large degree niggunim are music to be sung, not listened to. They're not a performance music, so why would I expect lots of recordings? Partially, though I'm pretty frustrated. Most niggun recordings I've run across miss the mark by either adding instrumentals (for check the amazing, but highly orchestrated Chabad nigun collection) or by presenting them as part of a musicians performance (e.g. the many Carelbach recordings).
At last, Songs on a Table gets it right. This is a collection of niggun recorded in the wild, at a table, with nothing more than a bunch of guys* singing, clapping hands, and banging the table. The niggunim presented are a diverse set, including traditional Bobover, Breslover, and Lubavitch niguns as well as more contemporary compositions. The guys voices are well practiced and authoritative. And, most importantly, it sounds nothing like a well mannered performance. Most interestingly, while niggun are intended to be spiritual songs, they are as often as sung joyful rowdy table songs. This album is on the joyful rowdy side. Great fun. Pass the schnapps.
The one caveat, and my one annoyance with the album, is its production. Which I don't like. At all. Between poor microphone placement (which made it hard to pull out the occasional harmonies) and the addition of a layer of lacquer (e.g. studio effects including reverb), it's just not recording it could have been. The result is solid and appreciated, but not brilliant. (For an outstanding, but not Jewish, recording of similar music check out the Tsindali Choir singing Georgian table songs [video] [album])
I should mention that the Songs at a Table recording is a fundraiser for Leket Israel, Israel's national food bank.
"With the help of 45,000 annual volunteers and a dedicated staff, Leket Israel supports hundreds of non-profit organizations caring for the needy. Leket Israel:
· Rescues over 110 tons of food a week that would otherwise be destroyed from hundreds of food producers. · Coordinates the largest food purchasing cooperative for non-profit organizations in the country. · Provides professional guidance to non-profit organizations in nutrition and food safety. · Supplies over 5,000 volunteer prepared sandwiches a day to school children from dysfunctional homes in 24 cities."
*Ok, let me be clear. I have nothing against women singing niggunim and would be very receptive to hearing a recording of such. But all of my experience with traditional niggunim has been with guys, both in personal singing and in recordings. The only recordings I've heard with women (e.g. the really mediocre UJR / Transcontinental recording "Niggun Anthology") have been really poor stuff. C'mon sisters. Get you're niggun on!