Sunday, February 26, 2017

New Hasidic Tunes: Eli Marcus, Motty Steinmetz, Dudi Knopfler

This isn't regular enough for me to make it another weekly thing yet, but since a bunch of music dropped at once again and I'm too lazy to make three separate posts and these three sort of tie together...let's do this!

First up is Eli Marcus with "Melech Haolam", a cover of a Haim Israel song originally composed by Udi Damari, here re-arranged by Avrumi Berko. Marcus, of course, is the brother of Shmuel and Bentzy Marcus of 8th Day and a nephew of Avraham Fried. His latest album, Energy, came out last summer.

Next up, young Hasidic singer Motty Steinmetz has released his first official music video for "Haneshama Bekirbi", the lead single from his upcoming debut album. The song was composed by Ruli Ezrachi and produced by Yossi Rubin, while the clip was directed by Ariel Cohen and produced by Shalom Eisenbach and filmed in Israel.

I normally don't cover the "child prodigies" of Jewish music for various reasons, but Steinmetz is developed enough not to be annoying, and the song, a breezy kumzits track, plays to his strengths as a performer. So does the video, which is a nicely shot, laid-back day-in-the-life narrative (although - and I speak as one with personal ties to this community - if I can make it to 120 without seeing another frum singer awkwardly interacting with a handicapped child to play on my sympathies, I will die a happy man).

Finally, another peyos-wearing vocalist, Dudi Knopfler, has released a video for his single "Ki B'simcha" to kick of the month of Adar. The song is composed by Boruch Sholom (who had his own hit album recently with Neshama Dance), with lyrics by Shalom Mordche Roth based on Rebbe Nachman's Likutei Moharan, and produced by Shmulik Berger. The video was sponsored by Soreiku Vineyards in Brooklyn (and boy, can you tell...).

In previous videos, Knopfler was presented as a straightforward crooner somberly addressing the Almighty. Here, he seems to be going more for more of a life-of-the-party pop MC persona a la Bruno Mars, and it's not a bad fit; Knopfler certainly has the charisma and energy to pull it off, belting with gusto and punctuating his verses with shouted Yiddish ad-libs to get up and dance, even heralding a Mizrahi-style bridge that's there just because. The video also helps, with some impressive effects for a J-vid and a Purim party scene authentic enough to include wine spilling on a guy's white shirt in the midst of dancing.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Leonard Cohen, "Traveling Light" (Lyric Video)

Leonard Cohen was one of the harder losses of 2016, but fortunately he left on a high note: his final album, You Want It Darker, a grimly devout gem that doubles as a comprehensive Last Will and Testament. To commemorate it, album artist Sammy Slabbinck, guided by Cohen's son and producer Adam, created this lyric video for "Traveling Light", a mournful goodbye with an Eastern European bent to it. For the video, Slabbinck and Adam compiled previously unreleased footage of Cohen, including an opening bit on his porch where he discusses his failing health.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Video: Alex Clare, "You'll Be Fine" (Stripped Back)

Having already given the stripped back treatment to "Tell Me What You Need" and "Open My Eyes", British rocker Alex Clare returns to the rooftops of Tel Aviv for this version of "You'll Be Fine", released as a Billboard exclusive. Like the previous videos, Clare is once again accompanied by The Portnoy Brothers, bassist Chris Hargreaves, videographer Avi Noo, and soundman Ben Wallick.

"You'll Be Fine", of course, comes from Clare's fantastic new album Tail of Lions, recorded with Hargreaves. The track is one of the more openly spiritual on the album, quoting Rebbe Nachman and reassuring listeners of their ability to overcome obstacles.

Dudi Hershkop releases "Ein Kelokeinu"

Israeli Hasidic wedding singer Dudi Hershkop is making his recorded debut with a new single, an electro-pop version of "Ein Kelokeinu". The song was produced and arranged by Bentzi Stein and recorded by Yanky Cohen at Music Place Studios in Ramat HaSharon.

Monday, February 20, 2017

New Israel Monday: Netanel Israel, Golan Azulay, JEW2

Welcome back to the weekly post where we look at new Jewish music from the Holy Land.

First up is Netanel Israel with the video for his new wedding single "Birkat Kohanim", a cover of Itzik Orlev's version of the prayer. This rendition was arranged by Eli Assaraf and composed by Liat Ravner, while Netanel's old pal Sruli Broncher mixed it and edited the video.

Next is singer-songwriter Golan Azulay with a lyric video for the single "Dor Holekh V'Dor Ba" (Generations Come and Go), taken from his recent second album Yaldut Meusheret (Happy Childhood). Based on verses from Koheles, the song has Azulay telling his son that many generations before him have tried and failed to fix the world, and his may not finish the job, but that this is not license to stop trying. The song was arranged, produced, and recorded by Shmulik Daniel at Hook Studio in Tel Aviv.

And finally, we have electro trio JEW2 with their new single "Naavor Gam Et Zeh" (This Too Shall Pass), which advances the idea that if Jews can survive thousands of years of persecution, they can overcome modern conflicts too. The song was written and composed by Aviram Chocron and produced and arranged by Tal Yogev at Hamaklet Studios in Holon.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Kosha Dillz Live at the 59th Grammys...sort of

Jewish rapper Kosha Dillz was at the recent 59th Grammy Awards...just not indoors. For the second time in three years, after being denied access to the actual ceremony, he took to the nearby sidewalk with a mic and drum machine and started freestyling at passerby. Last time, he performed on the sidewalk outside the actual Staples Center venue for the awards show; this year, however, he is ousted from that spot by security and so relocates to the one outside the Grammy Museum in downtown L.A. You can check out the video below or see the previous video here (warning: both contain some NSFW language and content).

New Israel Monday: Gabriel Tumbak, Yoni Genut, Elad Shaer

I'm posting this a little later than usual because I just got back from a snow hiking trip and am still recovering feeling in my everything. Nevertheless, the show must go on, so let's get into this.

First is Gabriel Tumbak with the new single "Kol Haneshama". Produced by Avi Newmark, the song was composed by Shmuel Marcus and arranged by Ian Freitor.

Next, singer-songwriter Yoni Genut has released his newest single "Hafachta Oti L'Abba" (You Turned Me Into A Dad), the fourth single from his debut album Daber Elai Be'adamit (Talk Real To Me), which released last month. In the song, Genut chronicles his complex emotions at having children late in life.

And finally, singer Elad Shaer has released his single "Koreh B'Shimcha" from an upcoming album. The song is a collaboration between Shaer and singer and musician Iti Amran, who wrote and composed the song after the two met while performing at a wedding. Tziki Zanti produced and arranged it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Video: Gadi Finegold, "Lo Yodea Klum" (Don't Know Anything)

Israeli musician Gadi Finegold just released this folk-rock ode to nostalgia, in which he reflects on the days of his youth with a wry "the more things change, the more they stay the same" attitude. Something of a DIY man, Finegold wrote, arranged, performed, and even produced and recorded the song at his own Pluto Studios in Tel Aviv. The video, meanwhile, is directed by Tamir Platzmann.

While much of his work has been behind the scenes with Pluto, Gadi Finegold has been gradually stepping in front of the mic for the last few years. "Lo Yodea Klum" is the seventh single and third video from his debut album, Lo Tipol Ruchi (My Spirit Won't Fall), which released in January of last year and features famed Israeli artist Eviatar Banai on the title track. And for you Anglophiles out there, here's Finegold performing an English song from a musical he wrote:

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Video: Yerachmiel ft. Rafi Barkats, "Horeis (Destruction)"

Yerachmiel, accompanied by saxophonist Rafi Barkats, has released a video for his composition "Horeis (Destruction)". Taken from a verse in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) where G-d vows to destroy his own creation if the Jews forsake Him, Yerachmiel wrote the song in response to the terrorism in his native Israel, particularly recent attacks in Amona.

Monday, February 6, 2017

NIMM: Haim Israel, Hanan Ben Ari, and Avigdor Gavish

Time for this week's New Israeli Music Monday, aka "I Guess This Is A Weekly Thing Now, Sure, Why Not, Saves Posting Time Whenever A Bunch Of These Guys Put Out Music At The Beginning Of The Week" (title shortened for length obviously).

We'll start it off with a returnee from last week: Haim Israel, here working with famed frum-pop composer Yossi Green and producers Eli Lishinsky and Yossi Tyberg, has released the ballad "V'az Yihyu".

Next up is a charming clip from rising talent Hanan Ben Ari performing his new song "Toda She'at Ohevet Oti" (Thank You For Loving Me), a soulful R&B love song to his wife, who appears with their child in the video. The lyrics were co-written with Israeli poet Roy Hasan, while production and arrangement was handled by Eyal Mazig, who also sings and plays bass on the track. The video was directed and edited by Yaakov Asaraf of Sulam Yaakov studios.

Finally we have a newer face on the scene with singer-songwriter Avigdor Gavish and his jazzy ode to "Shabbat". In addition to writing and performing the song, Gavish also co-arranged it with Yehu Yaron, who also produced the track, and the two provide the groove with Rhodes piano and bass, respectively. This is Gavish's third and final single leading up to his debut album Yom Chadash (New Day); previous singles were "Galut" and the title track.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Video: Benny Friedman, "Ivri Anochi - I'm A Jew and I'm Proud"

Benny Friedman has released a video for "Ivri Anochi - I'm A Jew and I'm Proud", the third single from his latest album Fill The World With Light (after "Kulam Sharim" and "B'sefer Chaim"). The song, which has a Mediterranean pop feel to it, was composed by Ari Goldwag, who also wrote the lyrics with Miriam Israeli and 8th Day's Shmuel Marcus, produced by Sruly Meyer, and arranged by PlayMasters, Ian Freitor, and Daniel Kapler.

The video, directed and produced by Meir Kalmanson of Meir Kay Productions, may cause PTSD in any New Yorker who's had to fend off well-meaning shluchim wielding tefillin, but otherwise conveys a solid and inspiring message of taking pride in one's Jewish identity.

Aharon Razel releases "Zeh Haesek Shelanu, Laasok Bdivrei Torah"

Israeli singer-songwriter Aharon Razel has released "Zeh Haesek Shelanu, Laasok Bdivrei Torah", the first single from his upcoming new album. Composed by Razel and produce by Yoeli Dickman, the song's lyrics are taken from the introduction to the sefer Chemdas Daniel and explain the Jew's obligation to learn Torah in business terms.

Based in Jerusalem, Razel is the brother of fellow musician Yonatan Razel and has released 11 albums since 1999.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Bob Dylan to release new album "Triplicate"

Legendary folksinger and Nobel laureate Bob Dylan will shortly release his 38th studio album and first three-disc set, entitled Triplicate. The album, which comes out March 31, will feature 30 new recordings of American standards, including "Once Upon A Time", "Stormy Weather", and "As Time Goes By". The first single from the album, "I Could Have Told You", can be heard above.

Video: David Hababou, "Elokim"

French singer David Hababou has released a video for his song "Elokim". The video was directed by Clipheart, while the song's lyrics were written by Sruli Broncher.

Born in Paris, David Hababou comes from a musical family; his father Michel and older brother Mendel are both professional singers. David came to prominence in 2015 performing with younger brothers Dov and Chmouel as the Hababou Brothers. His debut album, Adon Olam, was released last summer.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New Israeli Music: Haim Israel, Shuli Rand, Yeshai Ben Tzvi

Welcome back to "might become a weekly thing, hard to say, I'm a fickle sort". Be sure to check out last week's post.
First up, appropriately enough, is singer Haim Israel with the new up-tempo single "Na'ar HaMidbar" (Child of the Desert). The song's lyrics are by Itamar Cohen, while Udi Damari composed, produced, and mixed it.

Next, Jerusalem-based actor and singer Shuli Rand has returned with the rock single "Lo Tedi Kama" (You Don't Know How Much), his first self-composed song since his 2008 debut album Nekuda Tov (Good Point). Produced by Assaf Talmudi, the song is from Rand's upcoming album Ratzua V'Shuv (Back and Forth), which will be preceded by a live concert of the same name on Thursday, March 9 at Pubella in the North of Israel, featuring songs from the new album as well as ones from his debut.

Finally we have Yeshai Ben Zvi with the ballad "Esa Einai", produced and mixed by Adi Chait. Doubling as the leader of the Rimonim wedding band, this is his second solo single (his first, "Hashem Echad", released last year). His debut album is set to be released this summer.

Five Great Jewish Albums From 2016

Note: Yes, I know it's February already. Writing is hard.

The semi-authoritative "Best XYZ of the Year" list is a staple of music criticism (and poor imitations thereof), but seeing as I haven't been doing this blog for even a year and only had a casual knowledge of Jewish music to start with, I have less than zero authority to make such a list (you could argue whether anyone does, but that's another discussion). So, instead, here is a non-ranked list of a few Jewish albums from the past year that I personally thought were very good and would recommend to others (plus some honorable mentions), because not everything in 2016 sucked.

Further Note: This list is my incomplete ramblings. I didn't seek out a lot of Jewish music last year, so if an album you loved isn't on here, I either didn't get to hear it or forgot about it. Feel free to comment or email me to tell me what I missed.

Zusha, Kavana

On paper, a band that replaces all its lyrics with "da da da" in tribute to some ancient musical tradition sounds like the height of lazily pretentious hipsterism. Fortunately, Zusha has the musical chops to back up that conceit. Frontman Shlomo Gaisin croons and belts nigunim with the kind of rich, dynamic voice that can make the phone book sound dramatic. Behind him, his bandmates supply not only gorgeous three-part harmonies but also a wide variety of musical styles, from the group's signature folk/jazz/reggae blend to ambitious new sounds like the brassy "East Shtetl", the Coldplay-esque "Forever", or the near-dubstep stomp of "Ikvisa". Not for everyone, but more adventurous indie fans will find a lot to like here.

Check out: "East Shtetl", "Mashiach", "Shuva"

The Portnoy Brothers, Learn To Love

The cover, title, and the fact that they're from Israel might have you dreading yet more ex-hippie Carlebach devotees doing overly earnest rehashes of the master's work. Fortunately, The Portnoy Brothers aren't about that. While British-bred sibs Sruli and Mendy Portnoy do have a folk side to them, the retro focus on their debut album is more late '70s soul-pop in the vein of Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, and they're quite good at it. Sruli's vocals deserve credit, as he capably rides both the harsher funk tracks and the slower R&B jams, but the brothers collectively manage to channel their influences in a way that feels authentic and yet still fresh. Their lyrics, while not overtly religious, have a nice positive outlook that doesn't feel too contrived, with just enough of a darker edge (particularly on songs like "Tomorrow's Yesterday" and "Bittersweet Home") to still sound human. The title track in particular has a message of reaching out to those hardest to love that feels particularly relevant in the current sociopolitical climate. Here's hoping this debut is a sign of even better things to come from these two.

Check out: "Diggin' Deep", "Learn To Love", "Tomorrow's Yesterday"

Avishai Rosen, Mi She'ani Achshav (Who I Am Now)

In an industry where so many child stars burn out once they hit puberty (yes, even in Jewish music), 18-year-old Avishai Rosen has not only stayed active (this is his second album), but maintained a surprising amount of artistic integrity, writing his own songs and playing many of his own instruments. Here, the former Kinderlach member's growing maturity manifests itself both in his deepening voice and in the way his catchy pop rock songs are starting to edge into piano-centric indie rock similar to Ben Folds or The Fray. His lyrics, while still clearly written by a teenager, tackle the emotional insanity of adolescence with a surprising amount of clarity for his age, all the while assuring younger listeners of the light at the end of the tunnel. If this album is any indication of his talent, Avishai Rosen is well on his way to becoming a musician to be reckoned with.

Check out: "Echzor", "Hayiti Boreach", "Tipot Shel Ruach"

Hanan Ben Ari, Izun (Balance)

Not for nothing was Hanan Ben Ari's debut album certified gold in Israel after selling 15,000 copies in three months. Over the course of 11 tracks, this new face in the Israeli music scene displays his passionate vocals and songwriting with a soulful sound mixing funk, hip-hop, R&B, and Mizrahi music. His lyrics address conflicts in Israeli society, the Jewish community, even within Ben Ari himself, with a healthy mix of humor and sincerity. With a debut this strong, album no. 2 should definitely be something to look forward to.

Check out: "Izun", "Mimcha Ad Elai", "Tutim"

The Shondes, Brighton

Calling a feminist punk band known for its political activism "pop rock" might sound like fighting words, but Brooklyn's The Shondes should take no shame in having written some fantastic songs in that genre. While Brighton isn't quite as meaty as its predecessor (2013's The Garden), it's hard not to get sucked into the absurdly catchy hooks, the soaring guitar licks, and of course the almost aggressive optimism exuded by lead vocalist Louisa Rachel Solomon. That last one is key; while the album is not without angry or somber moments, its strength lies in Solomon's sheer wide-eyed joy and passion as she looks toward the future and refuses to give up on the possibilities ahead of her, no matter how remote they may seem. One needn't agree with the band's politics to acknowledge that Brighton is a rock solid album.

Check out: "Everything Good", "True North", "My Ghost"

Honorable Mentions:
  • Matisyahu, Release The Bound EP
  • Beri Weber, One Heart
  • Benny Friedman, Fill The World With Light
  • Rogers Park, The Maggid
  • DEMA, Dade-Halifax EP
  • Joe Buchanan, Unbroken
  • Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Video: i4i, "Lev Tahor"

Rapper i4i (Ari Shorr), together with the Jewish social network, has released the music video "Lev Tahor". The song, performed by Shorr, samples a song of the same name by Abie Rotenberg's Dveykus band, as well as audio from the movie Kingdom of Heaven.

A fairly new face on the Jewish hip hop scene, Shorr has already collaborated with heavyweights like Ari Lesser and SHI 360.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

NPR Tiny Desk: Distant Cousins, "In My Blood"

Indie pop trio Distant Cousins have submitted their song "In My Blood" to the 2017 NPR Tiny Desk Contest, joining fellow Jewish indie artists DEMA and Yerachmiel. The video above was filmed by Yehuda Kamman at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles.

Formed in 2012, Distant Cousins is comprised of Blue Fringe's Dov Rosenblatt, Moshav's Duvid Swirsky, and their mutual friend and collaborator Ami Kozak. They have released two self-titled EPs, one in 2014 and one in 2015, and their music has been featured in commmercials, TV shows, and feature films.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Album Review: Alex Clare, "Tail of Lions"

Album: Tail of Lions

Released: January 20, 2017

Style: Alternative/Electronic/Soul

British singer-songwriter Alex Clare is no stranger to career ups and downs. His first album, The Lateness of the Hour, was a critical and commercial disappointment in the UK. That, combined with Clare - an Orthodox baal t'shuvah - turning down a tour with Adele that fell on Shabbos and High Holidays, caused his label, Island Records, to drop him. Then the album's single "Too Close" ended up in ads for Internet Explorer 9 and subsequently went double-platinum, convincing the label to quickly re-sign him and give the album a much more successful U.S. release. Then his follow-up, 2014's Three Hearts, was again disappointingly received (due to lack of label support, according to Clare), charting much lower and earning more mixed reviews.

Understandably, Clare, now a husband and father, felt the need for a change of pace. He left the label for good and moved to Jerusalem in 2015, where he immersed himself in Hasidic teachings. Then he returned to London the following summer, connected with friend Chris Hargreaves of the UK band Submotion Orchestra, and the two set sail on the River Lea in a narrowboat, where they spent several weeks writing and recording songs. The result is Clare's third effort, Tail of Lions - a Pirkei Avos reference that advocates being a follower of greats rather than a leader of scoundrels. Clare, however, might be ready to do some pretty great leading if this album is any indication.

A common criticism of Clare's earlier albums was that they overemphasized one element (throbbing dubstep on Hour, glossy folk-pop on Hearts) at the expense of Clare's own musical identity. By contrast, Tail comfortably incorporates those styles and several others - the spacey trip-hop of "Get Real", the rousing funk-rock of "Gotta Get Up" and "Surviving Ain't Living", the angry arena rock of "Basic" and Open My Eyes" - all while still giving him plenty of sonic room to breathe - and boy, does he. Unfettered by label demands or public expectations, Clare's performance here is dripping with rawness - not only in his near-ragged voice (undoubtedly an acquired taste for some), but in the emotion he draws out of nearly every track, bringing fury and angst to the rockers and quiet sadness to the ballads with equally chilling impact. If Clare ever was just another British soul singer yelling over techno beats a la John Newman, he thoroughly shatters that image here.

On the lyrical side of things, Clare has obviously outgrown the sordid breakup songs he used to be known for (and which, he has implied, were mostly the label's idea anyway), so it's no surprise that this album goes for somewhat deeper subject matter. His faith is a clear and present influence; beyond the album title, "Love Can Heal" quotes Solomon with "There ain't nothing new under the sun," while "You'll Be Fine", glib title aside, restores crucial context to oft-abused quotes from Rebbe Nachman and the Maharash. Yet rather than settle for blissed-out positivity like many a BT recording artist, Clare is all too willing to show his humanity. "Tell Me What You Need" and "Tired From The Fire" show the ups and downs of a relationship. "Surviving Ain't Living" and "Gotta Get Up" strike down apathy and conformity. "Basic" defends a troubled man to those who have written him off. And perhaps most boldly, "Open My Eyes" expresses Clare's frustration over the political chaos in America and the UK in the past year with a level of insight that should appeal to voters of any persuasion. The album's thematic mission statement seems to be Edmund Burke's "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

This all might sound like heavy stuff, but part of Clare's genius is keeping everything pretty accessible; only two songs are longer than four minutes, and nearly all of them have a strong hook to get embedded in your brain and easily relatable emotions, ensuring that all of the album's deep themes go down easy. With his ability to incorporate so many styles and themes while still maintaining a consistent focus, Alex Clare is a revelation for both Jewish music and music in general. If any musician deserves to be a trendsetter, he most certainly does.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Video: Netanel Israel and Sruli Broncher, "Malka"

Israeli DJ Sruli Broncher and his frequent collaborator, vocalist Netanel Israel, have released a klezmer-techno, Shabbos-themed video entitled "Malka".