Sunday, April 30, 2017

Twelve Jewish Acapella Songs You've Never Heard (by TheAsh)

Guest Post by TheAsh of That's Frum!?

It's sefira, and Jews everywhere are turning to acapella to get their music fix. But before you go insane watching "Candlelight" for the millionth time, here are twelve Jewish acapella songs you might not have heard before. Note: I limited each artist to one song each to provide greater variety, and tried to focus on songs that varied in musical style and have not been covered by a lot of groups (e.g, Yehuda!'s "Umacha", which seems to be a Jewish acapella right of passage for some reason).

1) Shir Appeal - Delilah: This song by Tuft University's twenty-year-old co-ed Jewish acapella group Shir Appeal hits all the right notes and is arguably the best acapella song I ever heard. Thankfully not the expected Tom Jones or the Plain White T's cover, but of the rather lesser-known song from Florence + The Machine, Shir Appeal imbues the song with both Jewish meaning and excellent harmonies. I particularly enjoyed the harmony on the first hook ( "A different kind of danger") where the superb arrangements really stand out. "Delilah" is Jewish acapella at its best. (Kol Isha Warning for those concerned.) The song was originally released as a single and then on Shir Appeal's recent album Perspectives (which I also heartily recommend).

Also Worth A Listen (hereafter abbreviated as AWAL):
Shir Appeal's "Jonah", off their album Linguistics, another excellent cover of a Biblically-inspire secular song (this one by the band Guster) rendered Jewishly.

2) The Maccabeats - The Sound Of Silence: The Maccabeats burst into national fame with their hit single Candlelight (though their debut album was released earlier), and it's hard to call any of their songs not well-known. However, this years single 'The Sound of Silence', besides for being an excellent song, so passed under the radar that it deserves a major shoutout. Oh Maccabeats, why didn't you promote what IMHO is your best song?? It's incredibly hard to cover the Simon and Garfunkel song right, even with musical instruments, but the Maccabeats manage just fine with an all-vocal arrangement.

AWAL: The Maccabeats' "When You Believe" off their second album Out Of The Box, which in my view was highly underrated.

3) Six13 - D'ror Yikra: Although now Six13 is largely known for their fun pop parodies, they were once better-known for their original songs. "D'ror Yikra", off the group's aptly titled sophomore album Encore, is a great Middle Eastern-style song that features a great melody and a percussion intro that can only be described as 'bubbly'. "D'ror Yikra" highlights Six13's creativity at their best.

AWAL: "Yigdal", off the group's first album. It possibly features the best vocal drums in all of Jewish acapella.

4) Shabbosdige Oitzrois - Kah Echsof: The first chassidic style acappella song (that is, a song lacking percussion-style vocal effects and merely features pure harmonies), this is the famed L'chaim Tish "Kah Echsof" without instrumentals. This song is also very hard to find, as it was released on the group's only album Shabbosdige Oitzrois, which is now largely unavailable. Bug your chassidic friend till he gives you a copy, because this song is a must-listen and is chassidic acapella at its best.

AWAL: Every other track on this super-rare album. Also, "V'hee Rachamecha", off the Zemiros Group's debut album featuring Eli Beer, is another excellent song done in a similar style.

5) Y-Love & Yuri Lane - Shake It: "Shake It" was released on the really creative acapella album Count It: Sefira by then still-chassidic and still-closeted Y-Love, and is a fun song that celebrates Sukkos. Unlike most Jewish acapella songs that feature drum-like computerized percussion, this song is unique in featuring real beatboxing, by famed beatboxer Yuri Lane. This song also brings back great memories (at least for me): The whole three weeks it was on repeat in my bunkhouse when I was ninth grade in camp.

AWAL: "Bar Yochai" on the same album. Amazingly, Count It: Sefira isn't the only Jewish rap acapella album out there; Ari Lesser also has an album entitled Three Weeks.

6) The Shabbatones - Ahava Ktana. The second song on this list with female vocalists. "Ahava Ktana" is an excellent cover of the Shiri Maimon song, and really gets you pumping. The Shabbatones are Penn Universtiy's co-ed acapella Group, and "Ahava Ktana" was featured on their album Friday Night Lights. It was also the first track on Mike Boxer's collection BOJAC (Best Of Jewish A Capella) Vol 2, so clearly
I'm not the only one who thinks this song is great. (Again, Kol Isha, for those concerned.)

AWAL: The Shabbatones' excellent Subliminal cover "Tikva", also on Friday Night Lights and BOJAC Vol 2.

7) A.K.A. Pella - V'havienu. Unlike the other groups in this list, A.K.A. Pella are more of a 'let's imitiate musical instruments' group than a pure acapella group. However the vocal 'electric guitar' intro on this song is so good, it deserves an entry on this list. V'havienu is off their second album (aptly titled A.K.A. Pella 2), and was also featured on Acapella Treasury: Yom Tov.

AWAL: A.K.A. Pella's "Eitz Chayim", the first track off their Adaptation album set to the tune of "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi.

8) Gil Nagar - Ata Elokai. Every Sefira, there seems to be a widespread practice for Israeli artists to release awful acapella covers. I mean, truly awful. (Two egregious examples are Gilad Potalski's "Hofachta", which is terribly off-tune, and Ohad Moskowitz's "Birchas Habonim" - what is that drum sound? Cheek popping??). That's why I was so pumped to hear Gil Nagar's "Ata Elokai", which shows that at least some Israelis can get acapella right. The song is also an excellent tune.

AWAL: I thought Avishai Rosen's "Malachim" acapella cover was also decent for the genre.

9) Nissim Black - Falling Star. Nissim, whose third Jewish album Lemala took the JM world by storm earlier this year, told me in a personal interview that this is one of his less-known songs of which he's proud. And he has every right to be - o
riginally released under the group name MA"SH and sung alongside brother-in-law Yosef Brown and singer Gabriel Mintz, it's the only Jewish song that I'm aware of with a doo-wop, African-American barbershop-quartet style arrangement. The original musical version is also great, but I prefer the acapella version.

AWAL: Nissim's only other acapella song, "Lo Avater", where he's featured alongside Six13 on their just-released seventh album Blessings.

10) Kol Ish - Yehi Ch'vod: Kol Ish is known for their edgy music videos - both musical and acapella. "Just Had Chometz", their musical parody of The Lonely Islands' "I Just Had Sex" which is sometimes even more shocking than the original, got over 100,000 views on YouTube. Their hilarious acapella cover of Lorde's Royal, "Mohel", also went viral. But before these videos, Kol Ish was a relatively aidele - but still excellent - acapella group, with the album Before Eve under their belt. "Yehi Ch'vod", the final track on that otherwise somewhat underwhelming album, merits inclusion here, because, besides for just being a great song, it features some of the best vocal distortion effects I've heard in Jewish acapella, making Kol Ish sound like heavy rockers instead of nice Jewish boys.

AWAL: Kol Ish's covers (both of them) of Yaakov Shwekey's "Meheira". Besides for the version on Before Eve, they also do one with A.K.A. Pella on their album Platinum.

11) 8th Day - Ayeh Mekom. "Ayeh Mekom", 8th day's only acapella song, and one of the group's lesser known songs, was on their debut album "Tracht Gut" and also was featured on "A Capella Treasury: Shabbos", the Friedman Family's "My Zaidy's Zemiros", and the Chabad Telethon. It also shows how, just using two guys voices, you can make an excellent song with no music, complex harmonies, or effects. (Unlike many acapella songs which have tons of guys voices, overdone harmonies, and cheesy effects, and sound terrible.) This is the catchiest song on the list: listen to it once and it will not get out of your head. Don't say I didn't warn you.

AWAL: Although 8th Day have no other acapella songs, they do appear alongside Six13 and Yitzy Spinner on Six13's track V'zakeini/ V'hee she'amda on Zmanim, and alongside Avraham Fried on the aforementioned acappella album My Zaidy's Zemiros. Check out "Ma Yedidus".

12) Gershon Veroba - "Little David (The Fight in the Man)": Last but definitely not least, this is hands-down the best acapella-with-vocal-drums-but-with-no-computerization song there is. A cover of the Moshe Yess/Megama classic, and also a song Gershon performed many times way back with his band Takana, "Litte David" is bursting with energy and fun. And 
I strongly suggest that you should schedule a heart exam if your heart doesn't leap with pleasure when you hear the hook with the lyrics "Tell me a story and then I'll go to bed". This song was released as a free download back in 2009 as a Jewish Insights exclusive.

AWAL: Yerachmiel has a different great acapella Moshe Yess cover, "God Is My Strength".

Honorable Mentions:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sefira Update: Ari Goldwag, Micha Gamerman, Kippalive

As the days of Sefira continue, here are some of the more high-profile Jewish acapella clips this week.

First up, Israeli vocal troupe Kippalive has released their video "Best Day BeYachad", a mashup of "Best Day Of My Life" by American Authors and "Shir La'Ahava (Yachad)" by Ayelet Tzioni and Gili Liber. The video is intended as a tribute to the group's home country, with an opening quote of Theodor Herzl, sweeping location shots of the land, and even a release in the week between Yom HaShoah and Yom Hazikaron.  
(Warning: Questionable use of auto-tune.)

Next up is Ari Goldwag, pulling from his just-released album Acapella Soul 4 with this video for "Ve'ahavta", a cover of Hasidic singer Meilech Kohn's minor Purim hit from last year. The Lag BaOmer-themed video was produced by Goldwag and shot with Yirmiyahu Vann of Vann Visuals.
(Warning: Questionable use of "old man" makeup.)

And finally, speaking of Ari Goldwag, he and rising Brazilian artist Micha Gamerman collaborated on an acapella version of the latter's hit single "Rak Simcha".
(Warning: Questionable use of creepy smiley face mask that only a horror movie villain would wear.)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sefira A Capella season kicks off

Pesach is over, sefirah is in full swing, and the JM world has wasted no time in getting the requisite annual a capella market going. Our friend TheAsh (of the That's Frum!? blog) will have a piece here shortly listing the best Jewish a capella songs you've never heard, but first let's look at the ones that dropped in the last 24 hours. We have:

  • Nemouel (Nemouel Harroch) with this self-arranged a capella version of "Elokai", his hit single from earlier this year.

  • The Israeli Malchus Choir with their "Galician March". The piece, with vocals arranged by Pinchas Bichler, is from the choir's upcoming a capella album Ashreichem Yisrael, which was distributed early to readers of the Eida Chareidis magazine Kehala Kadisha.

  • Elad Shaer with a vocal version of his single "Koreh BeShimcha", here arranged and produced by Yaniv Blass.

  • And finally, composer Udi Damari (best known for his work with Haim Israel and others) and his vocal (and all Hebrew) arrangement of Benny Friedman's big hit single "Ivri Anochi".

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Matisyahu releases new single "Back to the Old"

Matisyahu has released his new single "Back to the Old", the second single from his
upcoming album Undercurrent, due out May 19 from Fallen Sparks Records and Thirty Tigers. You can check out the song below.

On the subject of the lyrics, Matisyahu told Billboard, "'Back to the Old' is the story of Abraham returning home to a whole new world after his earth-shattering breakthroughs and breakdowns up on the mountain. For me this was paralleled by moving back home 10 minutes from where I grew up in NY and starting my life again."

Undercurrent is available to pre-order on iTunes, Amazon, and PledgeMusic. Matisyahu will be embarking on a West Coast tour with UB40 and Raging Fyah in July.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Video: The Maccabeats, "Mah Nishtanah"

A cappella masterminds The Maccabeats have released a rendition of "Mah Nishtanah" for Passover. The catch? In addition to their voices, the video has them using items from the seder (wineglasses, haggadah, breaking matzah, etc.) to add to the beat.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Shtar releases Pesach single "Echad Mi Yodea"

Hip-hop unit Shtar has released a new single and video for Pesach entitled "Echad Mi Yodea", of course referencing the famous Pesach song of the same name. The track was recorded and produced at Redstone Studios, owned by the band's guitarist/songwriter Brad Rubinstein, while Yirmiyahu Vann created the video. One line of the song is credited to Johnnie Gordon, Rubinstein's former Lisp bandmate. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Video: Nuriel debut with "Beautiful Day"

Jerusalem-based alt-folk band Nuriel have released their debut single and video, "Beautiful Day". The track was recorded at Redstone Studios with mixer Yehuda Zeytim, while the video is credited to Danny Gold and Modan Films.

While only a couple years old, Nuriel comes pre-packaged with considerable J-Rock cred: three-fifths of the band (frontman Yonatan Attias and his brothers David and Michael) are the sons of Reva L'Sheva percussionist Yitzhak Attias and Tofa'ah flautist Tamar Attias, while drummer Tzvi Solomons is a member of Shtar. While this is their first studio work, they have several live tracks on Bandcamp and Soundcloud.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

8th Day release "Kapayim" video

Chabad duo 8th Day have released a video for "Kapayim", the second single off their recent album Slow Down. Composed and arranged by the Marcus brothers and mixed by Bruce Witkin of Unison Music, the Mizrahi-flavored song is a Hebrew-language tribute to Israel, name-checking various cities and regions in the country while encouraging listeners to "kapayim" (clap hands) for Jerusalem. The video, created by Shmuly Levitin, follows the theme with a montage of photos from the region.