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Jewish World Review
Nov. 22, 2004
/9 Kislev, 5765
…Oh, CDs I will play: It's the Chanukah wrap-up
By Paul Wieder
For those keeping track, this is the sixth annual installment of the Chanukah wrap-up feature. Is it a tradition yet?
Sure, socks are useful and a scarf is nice, but to really warm up someone's Chanukah, nothing beats music. Here are eight nights' worth of new CDs to enjoy after the obligatory round of "Moaz Tzur":
The Makkabees: Volume Aleph
Judah used a hammer, but these Makkabees use guitars and drums to bang heads with. To this loud-and-proud (make that very loud) band, "heavy metal" doesn't mean a brass menorah; it means the kind of music that treats eardrums like anvils. The nine scorching tracks cover the Jewish canon, favoring the songs that repeat one phrase over and over. Spinal Tap, you can play the rest of the year.
Black Hattitude: R.E.L.I.G.I.O.N.
Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of this, one of the first and best Jewish rap CDs ever. Two yeshiva bochors humorously bemoan various aspects of Jewish life: the scramble to get ready for Shabbes (Sabbath), the pressures of a "Shidduch Date," and, more stridently, the implacability of anti-Semitism. Through it all, they manage to maintain their senses of perspective and humor, urging optimism and camaraderie as solutions to these issues. The music itself is fun, skillful, and in a word, righteous.
Ari Ben Moses Band: Burning Bush
In a recent appearance for Kfar at Nevin's, Ben Moses led his band through a rambunctious set starting in reggae, then branching into rock, funk, and soul. Reggae is very fond of religious and social messages; Ben Moses sticks to the Torah as a reference source, but rather than limiting his ability to comment on issues of war, materialism, and modern anxiety, it makes his commentary more universal. Now that Ben Moses is based in Chicago, there is no excuse to miss one of his incendiary concerts.
Reuben Hoch and the Chassidic Jazz Project: Live at the Broward Center
The timeless and tireless Buddy Rich was a Jewish jazz drummer, and so is Reuben Hoch... except in Hoch's case, the music is Jewish, too. This is full-on jazz, full of lengthy improvisations on sax, piano, guitar, and of course drums… but also violins. Only a jazz band (or maybe the Grateful Dead) could play "Adon Olam" for 13 minutes, but with Hoch's ensemble the time flies, as the musicians and audience are having so much fun.
Mark Bloom: Brooklyn Roots
Jazz of a smoother, more Bobby-Short nature is featured here. Bloom, posing as a Jewish Mark Russell, focuses as the title implies on nostalgia. Titles include "Blame it on My Youth,' and "Golden Times." One song covers most of "Kosher Cuisine," but the elixir called an "Egg Cream" earns its own Anderson-Sisters-like tune. Bloom's piano playing is nimble, his lyrics alternately clever and touching, and his voice is engaging.
Gershon Veroba: Impressions
Like Schlock Rock (whose Lenny Solomon co-wrote some of the parodies), Veroba continues the Mickey Katz and Alan Sherman song-parody tradition for the Weird Al age, covering songs from the 1950s to today. Michael Jackson's "Black or White" becomes the Zionist "Blue and White," while the Backstreet Boys' "That's the Way It Is" is now "That's What Praying is." Jewish songwriters Neil Diamond and Paul Simon get similar treatment. The mood is fun, and the songs are silly while still promoting Shabbes, Torah study, and derech Eretz (respect).
Various Artists: The World is a Narrow Bridge
A constellation of Jewish musical stars join on this latest edition of Craig Taubman's "Celebrate" series, this time with a collection of "songs that celebrate hope and healing." Debbie Friedman, who spearheaded the Jewish healing movement, is naturally here… as are Neshama Carlebach, Shirona, Elli Kranzler, Beth Schafer, Chicago favorite Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi, and Taubman himself. Some mainstream acts, like Dana Mase, folksinger Sally Fingerett, and actor Mare Winingham appear as well. The songs are as distinct as their performers, uniform only in their tenderness and desire to uplift. The CD is accompanied by a book of 50 essays on healing by such luminaries as Rodger Kamenetz, Theodore Bikel, David Wolpe, Gerda Weissman Klein, and Kirk Douglas a perfect gift for those who may need a little more light this Chanukah.
Yes, Sendak himself reads his spry, wry tale, a Jewish take on the evergreen Peter and the Wolf; the beloved author scratchily but lovingly narrates Peter's marshalling of the barnyard in an attack on the vicious, voracious Chazer, bane of the shtetl. The way Peter introduced children to the orchestra, Pincus introduces them to klezmer, having each instrument play the part of an animal, the intrepid Pincus, or his irascible Zeide. The remainder of the disk is given to klezmer renditions of Brahms, Mahler, and Rimsky-Korsakov… so the listeners get a dose of classical music anyway.
So off with the earmuffs, on with the headphones… and best wishes for a warm, musical Chanukah.
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JWR contributor Paul Wieder is a public relations associate at the Jewish United Fund and a columnist for
JUF News. Contact the author or the magazine by either clicking here, or calling (312) 444-2853.
© 2004, Paul Wieder