Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lights: Celebrate Hanukah Live - Coming to a Television Near You!

Album cover for LightsWhile I'm pretty passionate about the renaissance in Jewish music that's happening right now, let's face it...I've got a cozy seat in the press box but Craig Taubman is up on the stage making it happen. After years of recording his own music, including the ground-breaking Friday Night Live, and producing the popular Celebrate compilations, Taubman has given us all a Hanukkah present that will be remembered a long time. This year Taubman produced a performance called Lights: Celebrate Hanukkah Live In Concert that will be aired on your local PBS station sometime in the next few weeks. For us up here in chilly Michigan, it will be a prime time spectale airing at 8:00pm on Thursday, Dec 11 on Michigan Public Television. My kids are already primed and are asking daily if tonight's the night. Not yet girls, but soon.

Lights includes a range of performers that will be familiar to fans of the Contemporary Jewish music scene in general and the Craig 'n Co label in particular: Craig Taubman, The Klezmatics, Mare Winningham, Josh Nelson, Michelle Citrin, Caren Glasser, Cantor Alberto Mizrachi, Joshua Nelson, Dave Koz, and Laurence Juber. The performances mix uptempo takes on well-worn favorites, with a few new pieces mixed in. Citrin does a fine freshening up of Peter Yarrow's Light One Candle. Taubman and Juber give an earnest Maoh Tzur. Most notable of the new songs are the Klezmatics arrangements of two Woody Guthrie Hanukkah songs and Winingham's marvelous, if a bit off topic, Convert Jig.

Lights does have a few clunkers. As much as I admire Alberto Mizrachi, his take on Flory Jagoda's Ocho Kandelikas is ponderous and over-wrought. And I can't imagine what Taubman was thinking when he approved Dave Koz's elevator music cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Musically and thematically it breaks the flow of the program.

All in all, it's a spirited, if uneven, program. It's easy to say I could imagine a stronger line-up and some better song choices (Lori Cahan-Simon singing Ven kh’tsindt di likhtlekh on, di akht – When I Light the Eight or The Leevee's singing Latka Clan), but like I said, I'm just in the press box. This is Taubman's show and he made it happen. And I can't wait for it to air.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble - Chanukah is Freylekh

There is a strange phenomena of embarrassed self-importance I've noticed about Hanukkah albums. The description of the new album is often preceded with a muttered explanation that previous Hanukkah albums are mostly terrible and that the musician wanted to contribute something of quality to the holiday. Here are two recent examples, first The Leevees in the context of their 2006 album 'Hanukkah Rocks', and second Erran Baron Cohen in the context of his 2008 album 'Songs in the Key of Hanukkah.'
"Name four great Hanukkah songs. OK, then how about two good Chanukkah songs? Not easy, huh? Adam Gardner (Guster) and Dave Schneider (the Zambonis) have taken up the important task of writing a bunch of great, rockin’ Hanukah songs." The Leevees, promotional website
"To take Hanukkah, which is a great festival that I always enjoyed as a kid singing all the songs. I remember we had this terrible record our parents played with children singing slightly off tune to a really old piano player. As the years went on, I realized they were all really bad tunes and all badly played. So the idea was to use story of Hanukkah and take some of the music of it and update it to make it really cool." Erran Baron Cohen, intervied by NY Magazine
Lori Cahan-Simon's got no patience for this attitude and her album "Chanukah is Freylekh! A Yiddish Chanukah Celebration. Songs My Bubbe Should Have Taught Me: Volume Two" should be considered a dope-slap and a wake-up call to contemporary Jewish musicans and fans. The album says, confidently and eloquently, that we've been at this Hanukkah music thing a while and have a huge backlog of quality material to draw from. If all you know is "I Have a Little Driedel," then you're missing out.

Album cover from Chanukah is Freylich!Chanukah is Freylekh! is an album of Yiddish Hanukkah songs, with arrangements that center on Cahan-Simon's lovely and spirited vocals. The album arrangements have a strong klezmer and Yiddish folk feel, and Cahan-Simon does the neat trick of singing folk music professionally without turning it into theater music. Her band, including David Chernyavsky, Henry Shapiro, Alexander Fedoriouk, Adrianne Greenbaum, and Walt Mahovlich, is wonderful and, like Cahan-Simon, presents the music with confidence but without overstatement. Greenbaum's flutework in particular is a delight.

While many of the songs on Chanukah is Freylech! are new to me (which, of course, is the point of the album), Cahan-Simon ends with the popular "Oy Khanike, Oy Khanike / Oh Chanukah, Oh Chanukah." Thinking about Oy Khanike, though, brought out my one complaint with the album. Cahan-Simon wants very much to help revive Yiddish and creating this album of Yiddish Hanukkah songs is aimed to support that goal. And it is, in my opinion, a remarkable CD that should on the shelf of every Jewish library and in the CD player of every klezmer musician (and serious fan). But I wish it could be taken further. One reason that 'Oh Chanukah' has become a standard in America is the English translation. It can be sung in Yiddish, English, or Hebrew (or blends) depending on skills and interests of the singer. While Cahan-Simon's extensive liner notes offer translations, without hearing any of them sung I have a hard time imaging them gaining much traction. Which is a shame, they're lovely songs.

Here are samples from a couple of my favorites.

Ven kh’tsindt di likhtlekh on, di akht – When I Light the Eight

Drey zikh, dreydele – Spin, Little Dreydl

This is a CD to be enjoyed as well studied. You can listen to more samples and order the CD through CD Baby.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Street Corner Klezmer

Whew, what a week. I've made and eaten a ton of food, had a great "staycation" with my wife (took the week off but didn't go anywhere), and had a ton of relatives come by for Thanksgiving. All good stuff. Not much action on Teruah, but that's ok. I've got a bunch more music reviews and videos coming up next week. I'm looking forward to Shabbat to rest up a bit.

For the moment, I'm still in a busy buzzy mood. So here's a video of some great busy buzzy street corner Klezmer musicians from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Klezmer music on "feria de san telmo"

Hat tip to YouTube user diogob for posting the video.

Monday, November 24, 2008

American Crypto-Jews and Consuelo Luz

A Crypto-Jewish SukkotI was taken aback this morning. I was sitting in a doctor's waiting room leafing through the October 2008 issue of Smithsonian Magazine and ran across an article titled "The 'Secret Jews' of San Luis Valley: In Colorado, the gene linked to a virulent form of breast cancer found mainly in Jewish women is discovered in Hispanic Catholics." The article discusses the possibility that a region of New Mexico and Colorodo were settled by "crypto-Jews," Jews who had been forced to hide there beliefs and heritage by the Spanish Inquisition. Here's Smithsonian's description of that settling process, which summaries research by Stanley M. Hordes presented in his 2005 book, To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico. Hordes is a professor at the University of New Mexico and was New Mexico's official state historian during the 1980's.
" Following the Jews' expulsion from Spain, crypto-Jews were among the early settlers of Mexico. The Spanish in Mexico periodically tried to root out the "Judaizers," but it is clear from the records of trials that Jewish practices endured, even in the face of executions. According to Hordes' research, settlers who were crypto-Jews or descended from Jews ventured up the Rio Grande to frontier outposts in New Mexico. For 300 years, as the territory passed from Spanish to Mexican to United States hands, there was almost nothing in the historical record about crypto-Jews. Then, because of probing by younger relatives, the stories trickled out. "It was only when their suspicions were aroused decades later," Hordes writes, "that they asked their elders, who reluctantly answered, 'Eramos judíos' ('We were Jews')."
So, this is another chance for me to demonstrate my ignorance in public. I had heard the term crypto-Jew a number of times before, but always in the context of the Jewish expulsion from Spain in the 1490's. The story, in the versions I'd been aware of, always trailed off pretty soon after that. One block of Jews, who became the Sephardic community were able to flee to the northern and southern Medeteranian. The other group, for some by choice and for many by lack of choice, officially converted to Catholocism and were absorbed into Spanish culture, holding on to some remenants of Jewish tradition but largely forgotten by history. Guess I'm way off on that last part. It turns out that there are self-aware communities, and many not-so-self-aware communities, of crypto-Jews scattered around the globe.

As someone mildly obsessed with Jewish music, I sprang into action. From an academic perspective, the primary work on Crypto-Jewish music seems to have been conducted by Dr. Judith Cohen though I could not find much useful information on line. Dr. Cohen notes that, speaking of the Crypto-Jews of Portugal, that "They have very, very few songs which are not common to everyone else in the areas they live in." I'll keep digging. I'm sure there is better information out there and I'll report in as I find it.

Adio album coverIn terms of contemporary music, I found a lovely recording by Consuelo Luz, a "Cuban-Chilean singer-songwriter." Her new album, Adio, deals with the Crypto-Jewish experience. The official album description notes that "Crypto Jews" is a term used to describe those "hidden" Jews, who, for survival's sake, needed to hide their heritage. Today a movement is emerging of Crypto Jews, especially in the US Southwest, wanting to explore their Sephardic Jewish background and sometimes integrate it with their Indo-American heritage. This CD "Adio" is a musical reflection of this desire for integration, combining Latin, Middle Eastern, Flamenco and Indigenous elements to evoke a historic journey, a fusion of traditions and the Sephardic soul's survival and path of transcendence." And, it's quite lovely. You can listen to it at CD Baby.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Kol Ish - Anim Zemirot

Shabbat Shalom folks,

My gang and I are having some folks over for Shabbat dinner tonight. We're really excited about it. Our guests are one of my daughters new Hebrew school friends and her family. We do lots of singing at our Shabbat table, I hope they're ready for it. My only annoyance is that a couple of months ago I had big plans of laying in a stash of the B'kol Echad bencher that we use. But, of course, I forgot. That's ok. We'll wing it.

So, to get in the spirit of singing tonight, here's the singing group Kol Ish performing at the University of Maryland Hillel in October. By the way, if you're in the Maryland area, they do simcha's. Give 'em a yell. (By the way, rumor has it that they travel!)

Kol Ish Anim Zemirot

Hat tip to YouTube user YoYo73188 for posting the Kol Ish video.

Chai FM - South Africa Jewish Radio

I just ran across a promo video for the brand new Chai 101.9 FM Johannesburg, South Africa, a 24 hour a day Jewish radio station. Mazel Tov folks.


Here's their station description...
"Chai Fm is a Jewish community radio station broadcasting to the greater Johannesburg area on 101.9fm. The station is talk format with 20% Jewish music. Programming is determined by community research and reflects the diverse views of the community. Based on "Tools for Life", Chai Fm provides programming that is informative, educational, entertaining and relevant to the community.

The objectives of Chai Fm are to: Unite the Jewish community, to build the connection between the community and the land of Israel, to reflect ourselves to ourselves and to provide programming that is relevant, informative, intelligent, honest, engaging, reflects a diversity of views and is entertaining.

Chai Fm is for all the Jews of Johannesburg, irrespective of observance levels, age, gender, race or financial status.

"The station aims to provide a platform for debate and a diversity of opinion" says Kathy Kaler, a director of Chai Fm. She adds: "It's so easy to think that our communities are insular and we can forget we are each part of a greater "whole".

Chai Fm was granted a community broadcasting licence in June 2007 and will begin broadcasting in September 2008
The magic words here are will begin broadcasting. The website is pretty much a mess, so I'm betting they're not on air yet. But hopefully they'll get things straightened out and running smooth soon.

Good news from South Africa. According to Lisa Gordon of Chai FM, as of December 2008 they have started broadcasting. They hope that in a year or so to be streaming their show world wide via the internet. I did a quick bop over to their website and it's looking much more put together now. Great job, folks. Mazel tov.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Amir Perelman's 'New Song Of Jerusalem'

Amer PerelmanWhat is there to say about Jerusalem that hasn't been said, loudly, with banners and guns, wailing prayers and chants, in streets, assembly halls, on television and the radio. A city as much disected as divided. What is there to say?

A lot, it turns out. And words aren't necessary.

Amer Perelman's New Song for Jerusalem opens to emptiness. A rolling, moaning, emptiness in desert colors. Long tones roll and toll from a distance. The tracks progress, plucked instruments and rattled ones make small noises of quite contemplation. Emptiness can be beautiful, we are reminded, and does not need to be bleak. Small moments of life are just as rich as larger gestures. There is a dream embedded in these rhythms, a quiet prayer, a coming to life. That emptiness can fill with complimentary dissonances and life can form.

The beauty of this album, and it is beautiful, is the gentle interweavings that fill it. Violins and hand held percussion, oud's and guitar, at once primitive and sophisticated. The understated rhythms and melody fragments pull at each other. bu bu bum bum tick tock tick tock tick. What is Jerusalem? Fragments pulling at each other, but from the complementary dissonances comes life.

Perelman, according to his bio, was "[b]orn in Israel in 1967 ... During his formatory years Amir was exposed to different and varied musical influences such as Jazz, Rock, Latin, Indian, Armeniam and Mediterenean musical heritage that are reflected in his work, by fusing rythms and scales from east and west , he has created his own personal sound and style." You can hear those influences, synthesized and unified, clearly. At moments Arabic sounds dominate, at other time, such as the song 'F drop,' Perelman seems to be drawing on American Primative guitar original John Fahey.

To hear samples for Perelman's New Song of Jerusalem and buy a copy (you should), visit his CD Baby page or his MySpace page. For the moment, here's Perelman's New Song of Jerusalem Quintent playing "Barchuni." While not an album track, it gives you a feel for what the album is about.

Hat tip to YouTube user abperi for posting the video.

The Power of a Niggun

Here's a fun video about the power of a niggun to bring Jews together.

Oorah CD - Sfashkanaz Video

The video was put together to promote Oorah, an organization that supports traditional Jewish education opportunities in the United States.

Hat tip to YouTube user AhavsY for posting the video and to Yosef for pointing met to the video.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Life Magazine Photo Archive

Folks, another treasure trove has been opened up. Google has made the entire photo archive of Life Magazine available on the internet. (We loves the internets). Here's a description from Ewen MacAskill writing for the Guardian (UK).

"One of the biggest photo collections in the world that ranges from the 1880s through to the seminal moments of the 20th century and on into the present day was made available to the public online from today. The bulk of the archive is from Life magazine, the premier platform for photojournalists in the 20th century. About 10m images will be available, from Marilyn Monroe and JFK to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. About 97% of the pictures have never been seen before. Google announced today it had done a deal with Life to put their pictures online. Also available is work from other archives, much of it collected by the former Time publisher, Henry Luce."

Here are a few fabulous photo's that I found on a quick skim the through the collection. But don't stop here, do your own searches.
A scene showing the cast from the light comic opera, A scene showing the cast from the light comic opera, "La Belle Helene", as produced by Jewish group. Photograph by John Phillips, 1943, Israel.

Ceremony of a Jewish Hasidic wedding.Ceremony of a Jewish Hasidic wedding. Photograph by Yale Joel, 1959, US.

Israeli pilgrims
Israeli pilgrims to shrine on Mt. Meron of 2nd century Jewish mystics, celebrate Lag B'Omer day with music. Photograph by Paul Schutzer, 1960, Israel.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Carlebach Jam at Toronto's The House

Just a quick morning shout-out to the folks at Toronto's The House. The House describes itself as being "experiential, interactive, passionate, intellectual, open, reflective, engaging, compelling, and creative. We bring together the heart and the mind in a rich blend of intellectual discovery and spiritual exultation." If this video from a recent post-Havdalah "Carlebach Jam" is any indication, they sure are.

JAM 6 -honoring the life of Reb Shlomo Carlebach @ The House

Hat tip to the YouTube user JewishRenewal for posting the video.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Josh Nelson Project - Lift

Lift album coverI'm driving quickly on snowy highway at dusk, the music swirling to match the rising snow. A vocal crescendo, over a wailing guitar. Adonai tzuri! Yeah.

I've been waiting for this album a long time. Since high school, really. I've been waiting for someone to let it rip like this, with well crafted sung from the heart and Jewish sentiment in every lyric. I wanted this badly when I was a kid. Now that I have it, though I'm not sure what to make of it.

This is a review of the Josh Nelson Project's album Lift, so let me start by saying that somewhere in your life is a Jewish teenager who needs this album. This album will hold it's own against pretty much anything on pop radio right now. Nelson's a fine instrumentalist and singer with a sure sense of how different pop genre's work. His songs mix and match styles, with a gentle groove underscoring an anthemic vocal style. Unlike a lot of music coming out of the Contemporary Jewish Music community you can tell these songs did not start life as happy clappy sing-alongs, though I'll be there's a lot of singing at his concerts. I don't have any tracks to link to, but go listen to the sample tracks on his website or myspace page.

Right now I have the title song Lift cranked, loving the faux-middle eastern shimmy, the pounding drums, and the popcorn sounding riff that ends each main phrase. But I also have some misgivings. First off, for a rock album, I find it way too well mannered. Nelson has a great voice, but it's passionate in a well-scrubbed, well-satisfied, sort of way. Nelson's guitar is the same, he's got some good licks but they're polite, safe. Is that wrong? Of course not, it's perfect for it's material. But at the same time, it leaves me wanting. The lyrics as well.
from Lift
In this tired world, in this broken peace
I am not afraid, I am not afraid
In the darkest hour, I will find my way
On this narrow bridge

Lift me up and lift my eyes, far above these falling skies
Give me hope and give me love, and I will sing Your praises
Days of wonder, days of peace, times of blessing, love released
Give me hope, and give me love, and I will sing Your praises

Josh NelsonThese are good lyrics, earnest and heart-felt. But at the same time I find them shallow and bland. It reminds me of hearing a young, earnest, folk singer sing in college. Her closing song lauded the sound of peace. I remember talking to her after the concert and complaining that I still didn't know what peace sounded like. Her song made it clear that she was hearing it, but refused or didn't know how to share the sound with me, even though I wanted to hear it. Lift is inspired by Esa Einai, Psalm 121:1-2, but doesn't make it connect. Days of wonder, days of peace, times of blessing, love released is a great line. But I still don't know what love has been released, and even if I want to guess, the song doesn't help me feel that release. I want to feel it. I want it. But, once again, I didn't get it.

But this is all secondary to the main point. Nelson has raised the bar, showing the kind of album a musician serious about his Jewishness can make. And I'm sure my frustration is not shared by the fans that pack his concerts and will make this album fly of the shelves. Some of whom will probably take me to task for being a grump or a snob. (It's true, I'm both. The first riff of Yih’yu L'ratzon is about a note off of the main riff in the Dada song Dizz Knee Land, a not nearly so polite song.)

Oh, I almost forgot, the Josh Nelson Project will be appearing on the Craig Taubman PBS special lights! Celebrate Hanukkah Live in Concert, which should begin airing at the end of November and on the album of the concert, which I just got in the mail and will be reviewing soon..

Niggun's by email

Hi folks, sorry I've been scarce lately. Some work and home activities have kept me quiet. Hopefully I'll be back up to speed this week. To get things moving again, I want to let folks know about a niggunim mailing list that I joined recently. The list, managed by Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen of the Jerusalem-based Hazon study-program, is a periodic email containing a recorded niggun and some commentary. One of Yosef's recent emails begins like this...
"I am sharing with you a soulful nigun about our souls. This nigun was composed by Rav Yitzchak Hutner, a leading sage who headed the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva in Brooklyn, New York. He composed this nigun in honor of the wedding of his disciple, Rav Shlomo Freifeld. The nigun and the words of this song are on an old record produced by the Chaim Berlin Yeshiva, titled, “Torah Lives and Sings!”

The nigun is to the opening words of the ancient Hebrew prayer about the neshamah soul – that we chant each morning. The following is an English translation: “My God, the soul You placed within me is pure. You created it; You fashioned it; You breathed it into me. You safeguard it within me, and eventually You will take it from me and restore it to me in the future that is to come.”
It concludes with this niggun [click to download].

As I've discussed before, the singing of niggunim is an important part of and introduction to traditional, particularly Chassidic, Jewish spiritual life. I'm excited to have Yosef's in my inbox on a regular basis. If you're interested, you can get more information at the Hazon website including info on their other Torah learning materials and mailing list. You can also contact Yosef at: chazon8 @

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chanukah Radio - Programming Lite Rock Radio

Ok, Chanukah is coming and will be here before we know it. Some of us, by necessity, are planning for it already. Radio stations, for example, are starting to put together their Chanukah playlists. And I don't just mean Jewish radio programs. I got a great email recently from one of the DJ's at Hartford Connecticut's WRCH 100.5 FM "Lite Relaxing Favorites." The DJ, Joan Dylan, is a great lady who does 100.5's weekday 9am to 2pm slot and was looking to spruce up her Chanukah music. Evidently, while Joan was well stocked in Christmas music, her Chanukah playlist was pretty thin, limited to "Kenny G, The Hanukkah song, and light the candles of freedom, and a few others that are quite nice but mainly instrumental." And it was bugging her fans, who wanted more and better. Could I help? Sure thing.

Ok. Those of you have followed Teruah must be chuckling right now. Yes, helping folks connect with great Jewish music is one of the main points of the blog. And yes, I used to be a fill-in DJ on my school's radio station and have deep love for all things radio. But, the part of me that's still a punk kid and an unrepentant music snob shudders and gasps. Did it have to be a lite rock radio station? Yes. It did. I listened to a few of Joan's shows to get her vibe and, while I find the whole thing a bit, well, lite, I have to say the lady has good taste.

So my challenge. Find her Chanukah songs that are fresh, contemporary, uptempo, that will fit in with her programming but still stand out to her Jewish fans (who, it seems, are a vocal lot). This was going to be interesting. Klezmer was probably out, as was anything to old or folky or liturgical sounding. This is adult radio, so no kids songs. I did some digging, which is always fun, and came up with an initial list.(click on links for album info including music samples)

Marc Cohn - Rock of Ages - Festival of Light Volume 1 - 2000
Barenaked Ladies - Hanukkah Blessings - Barenaked for the Holidays - 2004
Kenny Ellis - Sevivon Sov, Sov, Sov - Hanukkah Swings - 2005
Julie Silver - Chanukah, Oh Chanukah - It's Chanukah Time - 2006
Klezmatics - Hanuka's Flame - Woody Guthries Happy Joyous Hanukkah - 2006

The result, Julie Silver and the Barenaked Ladies were in, the rest were out. Joan personally loved the Marc Cohn track (as do I) but it was a bit heavy for her station format. With two wins in hand, I put together a second list.

RebbeSoul - Rock of Ages - Change the World With A Sound - 2002
Safam - Candles of the Menorah - The Chanukah Collection - 2000
Safam - Eight Little Candles - The Chanukah Collection - 2000
Lipa - Oy Chanukah - The Lipa Experience - 2007
Craig Taubman - Maoz Tzur - Celebrate Hanukkah - 2000
Debbie Friedman - Not By Might - Celebrate Hanukkah - 2000
Flory Jagoda - Ocho Kanelikas - Celebrate Hanukkah - 2000
Rabbi Joe Black - Judah Maccabee - Aleph Bet Boogie - 1990
The Leevees - Latke Clan - Hanukkah Rocks - JDub - 2006
Michelle Citrin - Light One Candle - Lights: Celebrate Hanukkah Live in Concert - 2008

The results...Safam's "Candles of the Menorah" and "Eight Little Candles" and Rabbi Joe Black's "Judah Macabee." That's a total five new Chanukah tracks on the air in Connecticut. According to Joan, "I know everyone is very happy. You have made allot of Jewish people very happy here as we have not been able to bring great fresh song selections to them each year when we go all Christmas. A big thanks to you!!!!" Great, Joan, I'm glad to help out. I'm going to be forwarding this list and some other, not as "lite" friendly tracks to XM Radio's Radio Hanukkah show.

I also have to say, I love this collection. While there are lots of wonderful Chanukah tracks that didn't meet Lite 100.5's format, there is not a dud in this collection. Grab them all and make the 2008 Teruah Lite Rock Hanukkah Album.

So what did I miss? What other Chanukah songs should your local radio stations be playing this year?

A happy-slappy time machine: Kol B'seder singing "A Tree of Life"

I can't resist passing this on. From Jeff Klepper's Blog:

"Here's a blast from the past. Kol B'seder from 1979. Somehow Dan and I were recruited to add our happy-slappy campy kid songs to a couple of episodes of one of the original New York City Jewish cable TV shows, Shalom Corner. ... While terribly dated, the shows are kinda cute, and here's a sample: Kol B'seder singing Richard Silverman's classic, 'It is a Tree of Life,' complete with the requisite puppets, kids, and Shalom Corner host, Carol Sterling. ... "

I remember singing this in Hebrew School when I was a kid and I think my daughter is singing it in hers.

Kol B'seder sings 'Tree of Life' (1979)

John Belushi & Romania, Romania

Ok, this bit is priceless if you're old enough to have watched Saturday Night Live in the 70's and early 80's. It's mostly about John Belushi teasing his fellow SNL actors, but wait for the punchline....

Don't Look Back in Anger

Watch more Saturday Night Live videos on AOL Video

You watched the video already, right? Ok. The song at the end is the classic Yiddish show tune, "Romania, Romania" which has been recorded by just about everyone. The song was written by Aaron Lebedeff and was first recorded in 1925. I'm not sure who's version is used in the video (any guesses anyone?), but you can hear Aaron Lebedeff sing it at Amazon.

Update: Richard Kamins, of the N'Shoma radio show in Connecticut, thinks the recording is Aaron Lebedeff's version with the Shalom Secunda Orchestra from the 1991 compilation titled "Shalom-Music of the Jewish People", released on Fanfare/Pro Arte Digital. Thanks Richard!

Hat tip to Susan for point me to this one. Thanks!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Alby Kass sings "Zhankoye"

Here's a lovely local concert that took place last week in Guerneville, California. Actor and vocalist Alby Kass sang some Yiddish songs supported by Sonoma County's Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble with Phil Lawrence on mandolin, Sonia Tubridy on accordion and piano, and Paul Alexander on clarinet. Wish I was there.

Alby Kass sings "Zhankoye"

Hat tip to Phil Lawrence for posting this video and two others from the concert; Ale Brider and If I Were a Rich Man.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mimi Sloan reissued and still laying down the gauntlet

Mimi Sloan's Album CoverThe horns blast, staccato and brassy, over a hammering tambourine rhythm. The signer lets loose a long wail, melodic and a bit unhinged. Is this a bimah or a bull fight? aaaaaAHHHHHH! aaaaaAHHHHH! Hebrew cantorial skat, her voice wriggling and bucking, changing tone and tempo on every mesure. Every bar raises the stakes; switch keys, drop an octave and growl, jump back up and let loose with a trill to shatter glass and hearts. SHALOM! Shalomashaloomashaloom! AAAAAHHHHHH! Instrumentals cut out and she cuts loose like everything else was just the warm up. My nervous system is shot. I’m sweating. I’ve never heard anything like it.

And if you haven’t heard Mimi Sloan sing Moyshe Oysher’s "Amar Amar", then you haven't either. Listen, and don’t forget to breath…

Mimi Sloan "Amar Amar"

Feder Sisters 78Mimi Sloan was one of the Feder Sisters. Along with her sister Sylvia they were hardworking second stringers playing night clubs and Catskill resorts and singing on Yiddish Radio. Amazing voices but no big hits like the Barry Sisters had. There were a few recordings, including the albums “Yiddish Maestro” and “Some Like It Yiddish” and singles like “Gets Mir A Yingele.” Want a copy? You’ve got some hunting to do.

But they’ve made an impact. In particular, Mimi’s (mostly) solo album “Mimi Sloan Sings Moishe Oysher Classics : Yiddish & Cantorial” has been remembered. In it, Sloan gives a ferocious performance of Oyser material. Last week I wrote about the British group GhettoPlotz and their haywire DJ driven klezmer flavored dance mixes. Their track Chassidic Torpedo lays down a slick contemporary grove over the bouncing-ball-in-a-blender “chiriribim” of Mimi and Slyvia’s version of Oysher’s “Hassidic in America.” I love the GhettoPlotz deconstruction and reformulation, but it’s the absolute fearlessness of the Feders that steal the show.

Here’s the Feder’s "Hassidic In America".

Mimi and Sylvia Sloan "Hassidic in America"

Now go hear the GhettoPlotz remix - Chassidic Torpedo.

The great thing is that “Mimi Sloan Sings Moishe Oysher Classics : Yiddish & Cantorial” is available again. It is was reprinted by Hatikvah Records and can be ordered right now from CD Baby and will be available soon through the Hatikvah Records website. Don't let the dated horn arrangements fool you, this album is as fresh and as radical as anything released and should be on every Jewish music fan’s Hanukkah wish list.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Amie Street - Music downloads with a twist

Amie Street LogoOn Friday my buddy Daniel tipped me off to an interesting music download service called Aime Street. Like other music download services, you show up, find and listen to a some cool tracks, and pick your favorite and download them. Crank your favorite .mp3 player up to 11 and declare success. Amie Street's twist is cost of the track. While Aime Street charges per track like most download services, the cost isn't fixed. It's pegged to market demand. When a track is first put up on Aime Street it's free. No cost. Nada. As word gets out about how fabulous it is, music fans start grabbing copies and the price starts to go up, up, up. 15 cents. 30 cents. A buck. Buck Fifty. You get the idea. So I'm doing my part. I downloaded a couple of cool free albums and now I'm tell you about them. Go grab a copy and let's drive the price up and help the band make some cash.

White Night album coverThe first album is the official recording from the "White Night - Jazz, Avant Garde and Modern Music International Marathon" that was presented at the Enav Cultural Center in Tel Aviv in 2006. The festival and recording showcase a wide range of amazing Israeli and European jazz musicians. For a review of the concert, check out this All About Jazz column, to hear the album, check out the White Night Aime Street page.

Album Cover for Jonah's SongsMy second album is Cantor Emil Skobeloff's "Jonah's Songs." According to his bio, Cantor Skobeloff is "Emil sings music that conveys a story about life's travails, and human passions. He says, "I want to touch the souls of the listeners, so they can share my passion and immerse themselves in this wonderful collection of nostalgic, Jewish masterpieces." Jonah's Songs is definitely passionate and nostalgic, with strong vocals and solid guitar work. Go listen and grab a copy of Jonah's Song.

Album Cover for Delusions of KlezmerMy final download on Friday was the Alexandria Kleztet's "Delusions of Klezmer." I've had this album on my 'must get' list for a while now and was surprised and delighted to see it on Amie Street. This is a great disc and a must have for any good klezmer collection. Ari Davidow at KlezmerShack reviewed it when it came out a few years ago and said, "From the humor and skill of the opening "Frailach Medley," or Tarras' "Bulgar in Bb" through the rock-informed (but very klez-ish) "Duncan's Disturbance" or "Cry of the Wild Lucy" (complete with Armenian-American surf guitar riffs!) through reworkings of familiar synagogue and Israeli tunes ("Eli, Eli," "Dodi Li," "Y'did Nefesh") the band exudes excellent musicianship and a joy of klezmer that are exactly what one hopes for not only at a simcha, but when listening to the music in the comfort of one's home." So go give Delusions of Klezmer a listen and grab a copy.

So come on folks, do the bands a favor, go grab some great free music and drive the price up.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tal Halevy's Haleluya

Shabbat shalom everyone,

Whew. It's been a busy fall. The festivals and Days of Awe are over. I survived Halloween. I don't get to catch my breath much though, since Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are right around the corner. Hanukkah in particular is stressing me out this year. I have a pile of great CD's on my desk that I've promised to write "timely" reviews on. I'm on it, folks, really. My goal is two written this weekend. We'll see if I can do it. I'm also working on lists of cool Hanukkah songs for a Lite Rock radio station and for XM radio. If you've got ideas, send 'em my way.

I'm so looking forward to Shabbat with my family tonight. I need a breather. In prep, here's my weekly pre-Shabbat "get in the groove" video (back fr a couple week absence). This week is the track Haleluya from Tal Halevy. A bit thick and breathy, but today I'll take it. And, of course, I dig the sand animation video.


Hat tip to the LifeOfRubin blog for the tip and to the Jewish Music Review for posting the video.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The "You Shall Know Us By The Trail Of Our Vinyl" Book & Bernie Knee's "Orthodox, Conservative, or Reformed"

Cover for 'And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl: The Jewish Past as Told by the Records We Have Loved and Lost'I'm was delighted to find that the Hippo and Campus at Reboot Stereophonic hadn't given up on the "You shall know us by the trail of our vinyl" blog like I thought they had. They'd just moved to a happy shiny new home to promote their book "And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl: The Jewish Past as Told by the Records We Have Loved and Lost". Now this is the kind of coffee table book that I can get behind. (Hint, my darling wife, hint!) The authors, also known as Roger Benett and Josh Kun, share my love for all the odd corners of Jewish music and are champion dumpster divers. Their blog and book showcase a lot of odd (and sometimes wonderful) moments in Jewish music and, though them, moments in Jewish cultural life. And their book will be out in two weeks, just in time for Hanukkah. I haven't seen it yet, but if it's as good as their blog I'm sure it will be fabulous.

Album cover for 'Jewish-American Songs for the Jet Set' As an example of their ouvere, here's singer Bernie Knee performing the Tobias Henry song "Orthodox, Conservative, or Reformed" from Knee's album "Jewish American Songs for THE JET SET." I love this song for not only name checking three of the major Jewish movements in America but for contextualizing the movements as impediments for wooing women. Knee was a singer and actor active in the late 1970's and 80's. This album was recorded by Tikva Records, a production house that put out a variety of Jewish and Israeli albums and then disappeared without a trace. So much so that there is an active group of collectors trying to track down any available information on Tikva. I hit GEMM and EBAY to see if any copies of JET SET were floating around, but no luck. Even eMusic and iTunes came up dry. If you act quick, though, EBAY can set you up with 45RPM singles of Knee performing Irving Fields "Let's Go Skiing" and "Melody of the Gypsies."

Bernie Knee- Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform

Flamen - Australian Yiddish Folk Rock (Circa 1986)

Ok, set the way-back machine folks. Back in 1986 the Australian Yiddish folk-rock group Flamen recorded video for their song Zibn Teg (7 Days) as well as one for Unter A Grin Beymele (Under A Green Tree). They've just been posted to YouTube and I've got 'em for your enjoyment. (No giggling about the plaid dresses and feathered hair. None of us looked good in 1986.) Zibn Teg was written by Freydi Mrocki co-written by Freydi Mrocki and Lionel Mrocki, who now performs with Australian klezmer band Klezmania, Sefra Burstin, and Michael Karsz.

Flamen - Zibn Teg (7 Days)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

GhettoPlotz: A Klezmer House Explosion

GhettoPlotzMy buddy Garret's 6 year old won't go to bed until "Michigan turns blue," my mother-in-law is speaking Chardoneeze with her girlfriends, I'm obsessively critiquing CNN's use of infographics (yellow states?) and my wife is burning off nervous energy by speed-cleaning the house for a second time. It must be election night. I think we're all a bit crazy tonight.

What better a soundtrack for a crazy night than London's GhettoPlotz, a "live klezmer-house dancefloor mashup project." (Ok, that's a lame segue, but it's the best I've got tonight.) GhettoPlotz brings a serious love of Eastern European Jewish music recordings, the lyricism and tonal qualities of the klezmer and Chassidic sources providing fabulous counterbalance to the rapidfire dance beats. Take the video below as exhibit A, but to get an even better GhettoPlotz experience hit their website or MySpace and crank up Kaput or Chassidic Torpedo. If you're in London, go hit the dance floor and get crazy.

Jew Many DJs - Music Video Mashup

Here's their official it but only after you listen.
"Think Fatboy Slim meets a Jewish wedding or the sounds of old-time Russia stirred up with fat and funky beats a la Basement Jaxx and youre on your way to understanding the GhettoPlotz phenomenon.

GhettoPlotz literally the word ghetto fused with plotz, Yiddish for explosion is the brainchild of DJ Little Miss Tan (aka Tanya Winston) and producer Mark White, both constants on the dance scene since the days of the Hacienda and now proud members of the house fraternity. Taking their cue from the success of the reinvention of the Asian scene, they decided to draw on their own cultural roots and bring klezmer traditional Jewish folk music into clubland.

Tanya a regular on the decks at Londons Turnmills and Egg as well as a former Mixmag DJ competition winner - says: I always wanted to combine Jewish music with my love of dance music and when I started working with Mark, he said he loved the idea. We work together really well as we tend to agree on sounds. The reaction to our first gig, in an Arabian tent at Limmudfest, was amazing. One guy said it was history in the making (which sounded a bit extreme to me!) and someone else cried at the end. That showed me what power music can have when it combines a deep heritage and tradition with modern upfront sounds it taps into the subconscious connections to culture and religions, as well as getting you rocking on the dancefloor. Together with violinist and vocalist Laoise Davidson and VJ Miki Grahame who brings her expertise as a computer games designer into the mix the group have created an attention-grabbing audio visual experience which not only reconnects young Jews with their musical heritage but also brings the sounds to a wider audience.

As Mark says: We want to bring traditional Jewish, Eastern European and Middle Eastern sounds to a wider club audience, and also to make music which connects with Jews who love dance music and partying. And thats a world away from the usual tired and so-called Jew-dos parties put on for young Jews to mix and mingle but without a relevant musical mix."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Reb Dovidle's Koach!

I've got a disc spinning right now that I just don't know what to do with. It's loaded with Spanish guitar, electronica beats, and infectuous pop hooks, and some serious love. It's also majorly uneven, amaturish, with reedy vocals, a stiff drum machine, and a go for broke "throw every sequencer patch at it" enthusiasm. Whew. So bottom line ... Reb Dovidle's self-arranged, performed, produced, and promoted album "Koach! and Ashrey! and More" isn't a fabulous album.

But there's something brewing here, a Reb Dovidle's got a wonderful musical imagination. His compositions take unexpected twists and turns. I've thrown the disc on a number of times, just to whack the skip button until I've gotten to "Barch Nafshy" or "Baruch Sheamar" and cranked the volume. I've found myself humming his Ashrey. Underneath the roughness, there is a real talent here. For his next album, and I know there will be one, I hope that Reb Dovidle lets his voice and guitar take more central role, improves his chops on the electronics, and spends a little more time in post production editing out some of the extras. I'm looking forward to hearing it.

Here... check out his Reb Dovidle's Ashrey

I'm hoping to get him to let me post his Barchy Nafshy, as well. I'll update this post if he does. Ok it's up. Thanks!

You can here more Reb Dovidle at his TuneCore page and buy the album tracks at eMusic and Itunes.