While Shea Rubenstein has been singing for more than twenty years, he is a relative newcomer to the Jewish music scene. A trained chazzan, he is slowly but surely but making his mark as a singer as well. His voice is pleasant and easy to listen to, especially on the slower songs.
All in all, this is a solid debut CD. Once again, Avi Newmark displays his great instincts and proves himself a force to be reckoned with. His reputation speaks for itself as he continues to put out quality products.
Choirs: Maybe it’s just me, but on most CDs, the backup choirs sound the same. It’s time for some fresh, new sounds in backup choirs. On this CD three different choirs are used: Moshe Roth’s, Yossi Green’s and Yitzy Spinner. Of the three, Spinner added the most to the songs that he worked on. I would have liked more Yitzy Spinner and less of the other two choirs. The fact that not every song had the same choir was a huge plus. Rubenstein does almost no harmony of his own.
Arrangements: The arrangements on this album, by Leib Yaacov Rigler, Moshe Laufer, Ian Freitor, Yossi Green and Moshe Roth are nicely done. Leib Yaacov Rigler does a really outstanding job.
Presentation: This is one classy looking CD. The metal case is both gorgeous and practical. The forty page color booklet inside is beautiful and easy to read. Rubenstein’s website, shearubenstein.com is equally appealing. I was expecting this CD to cost more because of the case and I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. CDs cost enough as it is. I’m not interested in paying more for a pretty cover.
Pet Peeve: I am a stickler for both proper spelling and consistency. Both songs number two and six are spelled one way in the booklet and another way on the CD and case. When you’re investing that much money in presentation, a pity to neglect the details.
Here we go…
Modim: My initial impression of this upbeat song by Yitzy Waldner was that it was an okay song, but not terrific. But I have a tendency to put on one CD and let it play endlessly. After a week or so this song began to grow on me. Great choice of lyrics.
Shir Hamaalos: When was the last time anyone did a march on a Jewish CD? Rubenstein definitely gets points for taking a song that is a little off the beaten path. For me, personally, this song took me back to my father and uncle singing songs from “back home” at the Shabbos table. This catchy Yossi Green song is enjoyable, but the harmonies are a bit overdone.
Ohavti: Classic Baruch Levine ballad, beautifully arranged by Leib Yaacov Rigler. While both Modim and Shir Hamaalos were good songs, this is the first song on the CD that gives Rubenstein a chance to showcase his voice. The song is simple, hartzig and definitely a winner. Child soloist Ami Eller does an awesome job.
V’yatziv: Terrific song by Elimelech Blumstein, who once again proves that he has made it to the big leagues. Perfect example of setting the right lyrics to the right music. It’s fun, well done and it just works. I can only imagine how unbelievable this song would have been if Yitzy Spinner had done the choir.
Ribono: Of all the songs on this CD, this Ari Goldwag song may be the one song that we’ll still be hearing in ten years. It’s beautiful, inspiring and just begs to be sung along with. Once again, Rubenstein is at his best when he keeps it simple and pretty. Just terrific.
V’yihalili: What is it with people deciding to sound Chassidish for one song? If you’ve got a middle eastern song, I can understand singing it with an Israeli accent. But there is nothing inherently chassidish about this song. And there’s enough funky stuff in the arrangement to give it a very un-Chassidic flavor. Rubenstein wants to acknowledge his Bobover roots? He accomplished that quite nicely with Shir Hamaalos. The song itself, by Chaim Ella Hartman, is an okay song. Would have been so much better if it hadn’t tried to be something that it wasn’t.
Window In Heaven: Once again, Avi Newmark hits it out of the park. This touching ballad is so good the only criticism I can offer is that a few of the lyrics seem forced. Having said that, WOW. Home run. Period. Hands down, this gem by Yitzy Waldner is the best song on the CD. Rubenstein is at his best here and he really shines. I don’t know if Rubenstein will EVER be able to top this song. As for the video and dedicating this song to Moishele Holtzberg, all I can say is this. D’varim hayotzim min halev, nichnasim el halev. Absolutely, positively, amazing.
Tick Tock: Another Elimelech Blumsein song and another winner. Yitzy Spinner’s choir makes this song and sounds ten times better than Moshe Roth’s would have. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get past the cutesy factor of the “Tick Tock” lyrics, but I was wrong. Great song. Gets better and better every time I hear it.
Kesorim: From here on in, it’s obvious that Rubenstein used his better material in the earlier parts of the album. The first part of this slow song isn’t bad and works well with Rubenstein’s voice. The second part isn’t as good and the harmony adds absolutely nothing to the song. The words “kesser Torah harey hu munach v’omed” is almost note for note identical to “kaasher zachinu l’sader oso” in Chasal Sidur Pesach.
Kol Hayom: Filler, plain and simple.
Bavor Dovid: No one ever puts their best song last. While Rubenstein has been a successful chazzan for many years, it’s not necessarily a style that belongs on this type of CD.
Summary: All in all, I would say this CD is surprisingly good for a debut album and is a perfect example of how getting talented people involved in a project makes all the difference in the world. It took me a little time to get into some of the songs, but the more I listen to it, the more I like it. It will be interesting to see what Rubenstein does next.