Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lev Tahor, "LTV" (review by TheAsh)

Album: LTV

Released: Feb 22, 2017

Style: Pop/Soul/Folk

Lev Tahor, a boy band/pop group generally recognized as one of the more innovative groups in Jewish music, recently released their fifth album, LTV, their first in 12 years. Lev Tahor, consisting of Gadi Fuchs, Ari Cukier, and lead singer Eli Schwebel, has previously released two a capella albums and two regular ones, and counts in its repertoire the hit songs "Im Lavan Garti" and "Moshe", both off their fourth album, which attained bestseller status in the Orthodox Jewish community. Additionally, Schwebel, who is often credited with giving them their distinctive sound, released in late 2014 a solo album entitled Hearts Mind, which included the wildly popular single "Yagga". On LTV, the group's voices have matured quite a bit, and on many tracks they seem to leave their old musical style behind in favor of more contemporary pop-style songs than the hartzig harmonies on earlier albums. In fact, one gets the impression that this is really two albums in one: Lev Tahor 5 (the 'older style' tracks like "Avdecha" and "Birchas Hachodesh") and Eli Schwebel 2 (the 'pop style' tracks like "Gam Zu" and "Simchas Beis Hashoeva"). 

LTV includes seven new songs and five songs which are either covers ("Hallelu", "Mr. Tanner"), rereleases ("Dror Yikra"), or remixes  ("Yaggapella", "Don't Stop Giving Love"). The two real stand-outs among the originals are "Meheira" and "Gam Zu". "Meheira", my personal favorite on the album, first seems like your stereotypical Jewish slow song (with a piano low part, string-section high part, and even the words of "Meheira" - how much more stereotypical can you get?), but Lev Tahor's beautiful harmonies and excellent rendition renders the song an instant classic (yes, cliche, but when a version of "Meheira" is that amazing, it deserves the cliche). The song features Lev Tahor's voices at their very finest - Schwebel in particular is masterful here - and it would not surprise me if this song was recorded at the time of their fourth album. "Gam Zu", the other big hit of the album, is completely the opposite of "Meheira". While "Meheira" is your stereotypical Jewish song, strings and all, "Gam Zu" is rebellious and edgy and has original English lyrics. With a tune that wouldn't sound out of place on the Billboard Top 40, "Gam Zu" expresses the Jewish sentiment that no matter what - you guessed it - gam zu letova. Although you would not have heard a song like this on older LT albums, after the phenomenal success of Eli Schwebel's debut album (which featured all-English pop/electric rock songs) the group branched out their musical style and gave Eli some creative breathing room, and "Gam Zu" reflects that.

But while the original songs are great, Lev Tahor really catches fire when doing their own rendition of other people's songs, as demonstrated in the past with "Time To Say Good Shabbos" (an Abie Rotenberg/Journeys cover from LT4) and "Deaf Man In The Shteeble" (a David Geddes-by-way-of-Country Yossi cover from LT3). LT5's covers start with "Hallelu", a reworking of "Holiday Road" from the classic comedy National Lampoon's Vacation. While it's admittedly less annoying than the original, it's definitely not one of my favorite songs, and probably not the best cover choice. However, Lev Tahor hits one out of the park with their masterful version of Harry Chapin's classic "Mr. Tanner", which far outdoes the original. In fact, I feel this song is Lev Tahor's best-performed English song of all their albums, and that's saying something. But "Don't Stop Giving Love" shows that Lev Tahor can cover their own songs (or at least their lead singer's) just as well as they can cover others'. Originally on Hearts Mind as a slow rock ballad, the LTV version, created by DJ Dilemmachine, delivers a pop remix that far outshines the original. The other Hearts Mind song here is "Yagga", redone in an a capella version as "Yaggapella". Although mixed by a capella genius Ed Boyer (Pentatonix, Pitch Perfect), I feel Lev Tahor should have gone with themselves on this one. They have already two classic a capella albums under their belt showing that their voices and unique harmonies alone  far surpass the all-too-common 'fake-drum' a capella technique. Other groups may need fake drums as a crutch, but Lev Tahor has shown they can stand on their own, and here it simply detracts from their great harmonization and turns a great song into a merely good one. 

Two songs on LTV feature other artists, "Dror Yikra" and "Simchas Beis Hashoeva.
"Dror Yikra" is a great Sefardi-style song that features Yehuda Gilden and Rivie Schwebel (Eli's father and a former Journeys member). You may have heard before - it was originally released on Harei Yehuda, an album of compositions by Gilden, in 2007. Kudos to Lev Tahor to including it, though, as most have never heard it. (If only they'd included "Av Harachamim" from The Shmorg as well.) However, "Simchas Beis Hashoeva", which features Lipa Schmeltzer, is by far the weakest song on the album. The song, although featuring the most interesting Hebrew words on the album, has a reggae-style beat that just doesn't sound good and a highly questionable intro alluding to a DJ concert in the Beis Hamikdash. I know Lipa has a penchant for pushing boundaries, but I didn't expect it from Lev Tahor. This song, or at least the intro to it, just doesn't belong on this otherwise great album. 

In conclusion, although LTV is different than their other albums musically, it's still a great buy. If you enjoy Eli Schwebel's debut album or generally like more electric pop songs, you'll get maximum enjoyment of this album, but even if you don't, it includes enough of their older-style material to keep you satisfied.

TheAsh is the owner of a massive Jewish music collection, and publishes the "That's Frum!?" Jewish music blog.

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