I’m a big fan of Rabbi Baruch Levine. I love pretty much all of his albums and compositions, but what I like most about him is that all his songs are real, genuine, good Jewish music. Since his first hit album was released almost 5 years ago, his songs have become hits throughout the Jewish music world (when was the last time you were at a wedding and didn’t hear Vezakeini?), and a good number of other Jewish music albums have been graced by songs he composed. Even with all that, he’s still a 5th grade Rebbe in Waterbury, and his fame and popularity haven’t made him any less of a Mentch and fine person than he was before.
Before I get to the actual album, a quick stroll down memory lane… I still remember how I got Baruch’s first album. I was in the Seforim store, and I noticed a stack of sampler CD’s on the counter. I took a closer look, and they were for an album called Vezakeini by Baruch Levine. I had heard and enjoyed his song Es Tzemach together with Srully Williger on Hasc 18, and figured I had nothing to lose by listening to the sampler, so I took one. I popped it into the CD player in the car on the way home, and by the time I got home, I was hooked. Besides for being one of the best put together samplers that I can remember (even now), all the songs sounded amazing. I bought the CD shortly afterwards, and I’m still enjoying it – in many ways, I consider it to be one of the best overall CD’s to come out in quite a while. Each song was a masterpiece, and had a real Yiddishe Ta’am, besides for being extremely well arranged and sung.
Fast forward a few years, and after having released a second amazing album, Chosson Hatorah, as well as an English album, Touched by a Niggun, Baruch’s highly anticipated third Hebrew album has just been released. I had originally heard that it was coming out around Rosh Hashana time, so I was kinda surprised to see it out this early, though I won’t complain! It actually came out during the week of Parshas Ki Savo, which contains the words from the first song and title track, Hashkifah.
In the past, my reviews have been more in depth, and somewhat more technical. I’m going to try to take a shorter, more “on the surface” approach for this review (though somehow, things always end up longer than I think they’ll be). I’m writing this after only listening to the album a few times, and I’ve heard from a reliable source that some of the songs on the album are of the type that take a bit longer to appreciate, but I’ll try my best…
All the songs on the album were composed by Baruch, and the songs were arranged by Baruch and Yanky Briskman. As a side point, Yanky Briskman has really made a name for himself as an amazing arranger, and this album definitely proves that – he even plays drums and/or keyboard on many of the songs. It’s also interesting to note the setup of the arrangers – Yanky arranged the first 6 songs, Baruch arranged the next 4, and then Yanky arranged the last song.
On to the songs:
1) Hashkifah – arranged by Yanky Briskman
It isn’t too common to start an album off with a slow song, but Hashkifah was definitely a great choice! It seems like one of the songs that takes a bit longer to appreciate, but I’ve definitely been enjoying it, and it’s one of the best songs on the album. I’ve noticed the words a few times and thought that they’d be good words for a song, but Baruch beat me to it! This song reminds me in some ways of Vehevei Yodeah off Baruch’s Chosson Hatorah album, which I thought was one of the best songs on that album, but somehow didn’t get the popularity it deserved. I think this song will go quite far, and readers – give this song some time when you first hear it to appreciate it – it’s not a song that you’ll necessarily love right away, but once you hear it a few times, you’ll come to appreciate and love it.
2) Tov Lachsos – arranged by Yanky Briskman
Here’s the “hit disco/hora” of this album! It took me a bit of time to get used to the low part of the song, especially with how the beginning of the song was arranged, but the high part was an instant hit. I like that the song is a shorter, less complicated song, but still so good (the song Chosson Hatorah from Baruch’s last album was also an amazing hit song, but it was a lot longer and more complex). Being a less complicated also doesn’t give the arranger as much room to work with, but Yanky did quite a good job with this song. I’m expecting to see this song become big in the Jewish music world by weddings and events pretty quickly.
3) B’ni – arranged by Yanky Briskman
This is a slow song which is more of the “instant like” type, and there’s a lot to like here! While Hashkifah was more of a sophisticated song, B’ni is more Hartzig, and sounds every bit of a classic Baruch Levine song. In some ways, the low part reminded me of Acheinu’s B’ni (off their first album), especially when soloist Dovid Dachs sang the song using words from the son’s perspective, like Acheinu did, but it’s still quite different from Acheinu’s version. Again, the arrangement really complements and brings out the song. This is one of my favorite songs on the album, and I think it will go quite far by Simchas and weddings.
4) Tlas – arranged by Yanky Briskman
I’m still getting used to this song – I’ve always loved Baruch’s slow songs, and almost all of his fast songs, but this songs has a bit of a different feel to it that I haven’t fully gotten yet (and not only because it’s written in a major key). It’s definitely growing on me the more I hear it, and I probably will appreciate it more as I continue to hear it. In some ways, it reminds me a bit of Kishoit off the Chosson Hatorah album, and not just because of the Aramaic words. I like the words and concept a lot (how Klal Yisroel, Hashem, and the Torah are all knots intertwined into one), but I’m not sure who managed to locate them in the Zohar…
5) Bit’chu – arranged by Yanky Briskman
Here’s another slow song with a bit of a different feel than the other slow songs on the album so far, and I really like the song and concept. I’m not normally a fan of songs with both Hebrew and English words in the same song, but the combination of way the words are done here and the meaning of the words really come together to make any beautiful, meaningful song. The Hebrew/English combination kinda reminds me of Kol Haberurim on Chosson Hatorah, but the actual songs are quite different.
The song really bring out the message of having Bitachon in Hashem, and how Hashem knows what we need, and how we should always trust in Him to do whatever’s best for us – another favorite in my book!
6) V’hogisah – arranged by Yanky Briskman
Initially, this was one of the songs that I didn’t fully appreciate – it has a bit of a different feel to it, and I wasn’t sure how far it would go by Simchas. I thought it was nice, and I figured that I would probably appreciate it more once I heard it a few more times. I’ve been listening to it more now, and I think I’m finally getting it. When you start humming a song when you wake up, and then again a few minutes later, and then switch to that track when you turn the album on, that’s a hint that you’re starting to like it. It may not catch on right away, but I’m guessing that this song will make it and go pretty far – it may just take some time.
7) Mo Ashiv – arranged by Baruch Levine
This song has a different kind of sound to it, partially because it’s written in a major key. In some ways it’s harder to come up with a good song when it’s written in a major key, but Baruch did a great job with this song. I enjoyed the song, though I wasn’t blown away by it, and I don’t see it being a huge hit, but it definitely deserves a spot on the album, and complements the other slow songs nicely.
8) Sheyiboneh – arranged by Baruch Levine
It’s a bit later on the album than on past albums, but here’s the signature Baruch Levine “fast rock written in a major key” song – think Higid and Shalom from the previous albums. I liked both of those songs more in some ways, especially since they both seemed to have more to them than this song, but it’s still a nice, catchy song. I really liked the interlude, and where it was followed (stating at around 2:30 into the song) by the low part with the choir, and with a lot less going on in the background, and then where the music went back into “full force” for the high part. Overall, a good, solid song, and one I probably would benefit from listening to a bit more.
9) Rina – arranged by Baruch Levine
The words for this song, from the Kinos on Tisha B’Av, have always stood out to me as words that were perfect for a good, Hartzig song, but I hadn’t found one I really loved… until I heard this one. It’s somewhat more “toned down”, but it’s a beautiful song, and it really brings out the words nicely. The arrangements also are done very nicely, and I especially liked how the song started off with the brass, presumably because of the meaning of the words, and how the music gradually builds up as the song goes along and gets more powerful, and then ends off with the soft music, and then the final “crescendo”. Overall, a beautiful, quality song, and while this may not be sung by Simchos because of the nature of the song and words, it seems like it will be an amazing Kumzitz song.
10) Kol Atzmosai – arranged by Baruch Levine
First off – I just love the acoustic feel of the intro and beginning of the song. It’s a beautiful song, and the way it was arranged and set up with the choir only makes it better. In some parts, I felt that there was a bit too much of the “background vocals”, but I didn’t feel that stood out too much – I was too busy enjoying the rest of the song. The “Chazanus”” part at around 3:20 was interesting, and I’ve never really heard Baruch do something like that, but it sounded nice, and blended well with the rest of the song. In some ways, I liked the song better when it was slower, and I felt that the way the song sped up towards the end could have been done a bit better, but it all comes together quite nicely at the end. Overall, it’s definitely an enjoyable song, and one of my favorite on the album.
11) Refuah – arranged by Baruch Levine
This song was first debuted by the second Shwekey in Caesaria concert, where Baruch sang it together with Yaakov Shwekey. When I first heard it, I liked Yaakov’s part in it and enjoyed how their voices came together, and I was wondering if they’d both sing it together on a studio album (remember V’hoo Keili?), but after hearing this version, in some ways I think that this song is better suited for Baruch’s voice. Yanky Briskman (who incidentally was playing drums by that concert) had originally arranged the song for the concert, and I didn’t really compare the two versions, but the arrangement sounds quite similar, which is fine in my book. The song is a beautiful song, and is pretty identifiable as one of Baruch’s compositions, and even though it already came out on the concert album, I love that they re-recorded it and added it to this album. I’ve already heard this song used in quite a few places, and I’m sure now that it’s been re-released, it will only become more popular. I always wonder if they spoil good songs by releasing them by concerts, but that doesn’t seems to have hurt Vehi Sheomdoh in any way, and I doubt it will negatively affect Refuah in any way either. It’s also not easy to know how far a song will go,especially when it’s introduced by a concert – I heard that they never expected Vehi Sheomdoh to become the hit it became, otherwise I’m sure they probably would have saved it for a studio album. Either way, Refuah is definitely a beautiful song, and one of the best on the album, (maybe comparing isn’t fair, since I’ve already had a chance to hear it for quite a while and I already knew it before I got the album), and it just gets better every time I hear it.
So there’s my “short” review – it ended up being a bit longer than I thought it would be… sorry to anyone who was disappointed ;)
I really enjoyed the album, and it has a wide variety of songs that will appeal to almost any audience.
If you haven’t gotten the album yet, I suggest you go directly to the nearest store that sells Jewish music, or head over to Mostly Music’s website, and buy the album immediately. You can buy the album download from Mostly Music for $11.99, if you’re technologically inclined and feel that CD’s are technology from the last decade.
Or, if you want to get the best of both worlds, you’re in luck – for the first time ever in Jewish music, if you buy the CD for $14.99 from Mostly Music, you’ll get the album download thrown in for free! This way, while you wait for your physical CD to arrive, you can already be enjoying the digital version of the album. Just go to MostlyMusic.com, add the CD to your cart, and watch the magic happen.
In addition, tell all your friends about the album (no, I didn’t say to share your copy of the album with them, because that wouldn’t be right), and help support Jewish music by supporting those who bring you amazing album releases.
As always, I appreciate any feedback, questions, or comments that you have – feel free to leave them below, and I’ll try to respond to whatever I can get to.