Hislahavus’ Review of Leap of Faith

General — By on June 19, 2012 10:26 am

It’s always a good day when we get a new Lipa offering, isn’t it? As always, the talented guy comes up with some good stuff. Let’s check it out, looking at it honestly after a few weeks of analysis and highlight the best of the best on this album. (BTW, Lipa scores once again on a great album name!)

Bachatzotzrois: (****) The intro features trumpets, which appear in and out of the song, as befits these lyrics. The tune is good, but pretty standard. Lipa keeps things interesting with varied vocal movement across the board. He does an extraordinary job on just that during the second time through, with a smooth vocal ride and touch-perfect control. The tune is quite singable, but as an opening song, doesn’t pull you into the album as much as Gam Zi Letoiva, Raboisai and Splash did. As for the arrangements, I love the subtle, yet well-placed shofar blasts scattered throughout combined with the sharp horns. However, it could have used with more emphasis placed on trumpet soloing, alongside the simple blasts, and less emphasis on the strings. I think that would have given it the bit more color to take it to the next level. Excellent background choir mimics the brass on and off. In any case, a fine song with plenty to listen to.

Yigdal: (****) The next piece of the album is a pretty tune, with a very aidel performance by both Lipa and friends. Outstanding mix of harmonies, delicate guitar work and gentle soloing are found all the way through. Around 3:58 and onward, and particularly after the guitar breaks itself through, they really dial it up, with a mix of full and complimentary harmonies. Absolutely solid backing arrangements and choir – in fact, just about as good as you’re going to find anywhere. While the instrumental at the end stretches out a bit too far, Lipa finishes it off perfectly. Geshmak.

Kvoidoi: (*****) Lipa loves his disco, there’s no question about that! He also seems to like the word “Ayei”. This bouncer proves that he isn’t beholden to everyone, and he’s still got it in him to do something a bit out there, but still keep it within the realm of Jewish music. One of my favorites on the record, the really nice thing about it is that the composition is totally chassidish in style, but the sci-fi arrangements give it a nice spicy kick. I particularly like the fact that they didn’t rely solely on the synth (as they do in Hang Up the Phone and Mizrach). Instead, you have a nice rhythm guitar, and those sound like real percussion to me. Lipa seems to be taking it easy on the vocals and not letting it rip as he could, or at least as he has in the past. He still manages some vocal gymnastics, though. Lots of fun.

Vayehi Binsoia: (***) Another pretty slow song (Yossi Green comp) that is fairly basic. My only beef with this sweet song is that any lyrics could have fit here. I don’t really see that the words they chose  fit the spiritual space of the tune. The very delicate arrangement begins with a simple piano-based orchestration, but moves further along into a very dramatic operatic experience, and slips easily from there into a gorgeous humming falsetto ending. All in all, it’s a simple but good piece.

Hang Up the Phone: (***) One of the more humorous pieces of the album (and by now you must have seen the video), with an extremely important message for everyone out there. The trance composition is very simple, though. It’s cute and funny, but doesn’t have much depth. The nigun style bridge in the middle gives it a little more something. (It also accentuates the emotional/spiritual difference between a niggun and trance music.) I would have liked to see some organic instruments crack the digital space when going through that bridge – it would have really brought out the difference between computer and reality. The kids will love it, in any case – my kids do, and my bet is it’ll be one of the hits of the camp season.

Vedabkeini: (****) A fun, fast-paced song that is reminiscent to some degree of his Ve’etuheir on the album Letoiva. The “ghetto” Yiddish at 3:30 is pretty cool, followed soon after by a fun rapid-fire verbal display. His Yiddish translation work adds a very personal angle to it. What is it about Yiddish that manages to do that? I find that with many songs that are mostly Hebrew, if you toss in one or two lines of Yiddish, even if it’s a direct translation, it suddenly jumps to another level. Whatever the case, every time I listen to this song, it gets stuck in my head – it’s just that catchy. Good brass features a growling sax, and the percussive/bass trumpets before we enter the “ghetto” we mentioned before has a cool and unexpected sound. Anyone know what the last comment Lipa makes, towards the end of the song? Yeah, right before the trumpets get stuck briefly running into the William Tell Overture. (Just briefly.)

Yeled Katan: (*****) Lipa now has his very own Aleh Katan, as Yishai Lapidot joins him with the composition, an excellent Ivrit rock song to add to Lipa’s multi-lingual discography. I don’t expect it to match Aleh Katan – that song seems to have a life of its own – but it’s deserving in its own right. He sings it with aplomb, matching quite nicely with the awesome arrangements. I particularly like the strong guitar and piano work. But really, the professional yet hartzig Lipa vocals are what give it the color and flavor that we love. I never would have expected Lipa’s and Lapidot’s voices to go nearly as well together as they do, but they mix very well. It seems like Lapidot added his touch to both the choir – that high pitched second harmony is not typical of Lipa’s choral work – and to Lipa’s finale, with a subtle bend that is totally Yishai’s. Great job, great song.

Leap of Faith: (****) Going back to the jazzy style of Keinehora, this second Yiddish/English song is another excellent creation. THIS is what we expect of a Lipa composition – creative, meaningful lyrics; energetic harmonies; and a sound that no one else in Jewish music has ever attempted. All that can be found right here. Lipa’s accent in English gives him new rhymes to play with, ala Isaac Bitton and Raya Mehemna. Strong horns, funky percussion, electro zaniness and more awesome rhythm on the electric guitar blast the song outward and give it many layers of color. It’s only the last 1:20 of the song that could have been worked with a bit, in which the horns repeat the same movement over and over again (16 times, by my count!). While it’s got some cool vocals and the keyboards running across it, it gets too repetitive. An instrumental jam session overlaid as well (say a guitar and sax), and knocking it to the back of the mix, would have perfected it.

Lipa’s Shul: (*****) We end the album on a gorgeous note, with another one of Lipa’s gems. This one is complete, starting with the sparkling piano which begins and wraps it up. Lyrics: beautiful. Arrangement: gorgeous; no, heavenly! Vocals: heartfelt, real and touching. Choir: pitch perfect. Big time credit to Naftali Schnitzler for the fantastic orchestration; the piano/strings are a thing of real beauty, all the way through from the first through the final note. The theme just by itself would have scored a five in my book, and the intro and finale are just sublime. This song speaks for itself – kick back and enjoy.

So, what’s the result? Well, Lipa is on record saying this would not be an artsy album. But what would that mean? Now we know – he published an album of “standard” Jewish music; not as much of the edgy, creative, inspired brilliance of some of his earlier stuff. Whether you like it or not, an artist is judged by their prior work, not by the mainstream. (Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz just kvetched about this the other week.) So when a guy has albums like Keinehora, A Poshiter Yid and Me’imka DeLipa (and even “ordinary” albums like Baderech, Letoivu and L’eilu Il’eilu), he’s created an extremely high bar to be judged by.

You have to understand my review with this note. I love Lipa. I love his creativity, his willingness to go almost anywhere, and his vocal and artistic talent. And I like this album as well. But he did hold the talent back a bit; after all, he basically said that himself, and I want to see more of that talent, despite the goodness in this record.

All in all, it’s a good album, with some excellent material. After all, Lipa Schmeltzer is one of our very best. You’re getting a full and talented production every time you buy one of his CDs. Yes, I do feel that this one needed more verbal and creative variety. Yet, despite all of my critiques, there ain’t no one like Lipa!

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20 Comments

  1. OutOfTowner says:

    Nice review, but there are 3 songs missing….

  2. Hislahavus says:

    Thanks. We decided to focus on what I liked on the album, as opposed to getting needlessly and overly critical of the 3 songs I didn’t. In short, though, I thought the themes of those three songs could have used some more work. (Making one brief statement here in the comments is IMHO different than browbeating the producers in a full length article.)

  3. OutOfTowner says:

    I hear you. I usually will just make a short comment that I didn’t particularly like the song, it wasn’t my taste or not my style, but in the words of an old time radio legend in Chicago it’s “your dime, your dance floor!”

  4. Hislahavus says:

    I’m usually on your side of the fence, and I usually try to find a positive element even in songs I don’t really like. In this case, we just tried a different tack for a few reasons.

  5. JtopBlogger says:

    Hey great job agree with you about vayehi lyrics aren’t so fitting the William tell overture thing I noticed that too!

  6. Leepster says:

    IMHO best part of this whole review is the last sentence!

  7. Amrom says:

    I guess the reason you didnt write about the Mizrach song
    Is because you didnt want to put out there 6 stars :-) (******)

  8. Hislahavus says:

    I understand why you’d like Mizrach – it has a good beat. But a good beat does not necessarily make a good, let alone a great song. As I said in my earlier comment, the theme is weak, and the tune is not very spiritually expressive. So no 6 stars for Mizrach – I give it a 3.

  9. GoofyDaDog says:

    “and a sound that no one else in Jewish music has ever attempted” – The song ‘Leap of Faith’ sounds like it was lifted straight from mbd’s – Neshama (1975) album.

  10. Hislahavus says:

    While I see where you’re drawing your comment from, I wouldn’t necessarily say that – it may have the brash brass, bass and synth that a few songs on Neshama Soul are built off, but the style is far more jazzy (none of the symphonic strings here), Lipa’s singing style is not similar in the slightest, and the harmonies with which gives the song most of its character do not exist on Neshama Soul.

  11. Hello says:

    Rabbi! Your crazy , How could you miss out on a highly powered hartziga niggun like “rochel” , This song is certainly in lipas top 10 songs , Its a beautiful composition , The chorus is beautiful and really all in all A GREAT jewish song! Please explain why you missed this song out? I will judge you favorably and assume you never got round to listen to it because there is no way you can miss a song like rochel!

  12. Hislahavus says:

    Glad you enjoyed Rochel. I thought it was another pretty tune, but as I said, to me, the theme is the problem of this song as well. The theme of Rochel crying has been by MBD in Yiddish (Mama Rochel); Journeys/Shwekey in English/Ivrit; D’veykus, London School and Tzlil V’zemer with slow Kol B’ramas (and London’s was covered by New York School and MBD); and a fast Yesh Sachar by Yehuda. I’m probably missing another dozen songs with the same concept. I don’t think there was a need to add to them.

  13. Hello says:

    Im afraid sir you are missing the point of a niggun. When you listen to a song and it uplifts you , your mind shouldn’t start racing and thinking where else has that song “theme” (what ever you mean by that) cropped up. Enjoy it!

    Keep posting!

    Kol Tuv! :*

  14. Zoltan says:

    Thanks for the review, i bought the album nice but something missing. So im going back to Keep Climbing.

  15. Hislahavus says:

    Hello, there are two parts of a niggun – the tune/emotion, and the words/intellect. The “theme” is the concept, or the verbal message that is being delivered. One can interfere with the other of they are not aligned properly, as I’ve written about previously. So an uplifting tune that has lyrics that don’t fit, either lyrically or conceptually, can no longer be an enjoyable song, unless you want to ignore the words.

    But re Rochel, when there are excellent songs with those same (or similar) words, you wonder why the composer had to go back to an idea that had been touched already by so many others. The concept of Rochel is the story of Yaakov telling Yosef why he buried Rochel in Beis Lechem. That story is well known from the many songs written about it, and I dare say that most of those songs are better than this one, for many reasons. So why take an idea that has already been explored so much? There is so much in Torah that has been untapped by the JM world – and Lipa in particular has been one of those who has been always exploring brand new ideas.

    Zoltan, you must be in agreement with my penultimate paragraph. But there are some good songs on it, and I hope you enjoy them.

  16. Nochum says:

    I am the average demographic for mainstream Jewish music: Ashkenazi, American, FFB, Yeshiva background, none Williamsburg, none Chaisidish Boro Park. So while I can enjoy L’Chaim Tish (which apparently isn’t produced by a Chasidish’e person) that aint the mainstream.

    Lipa has made the crossover. However, while I do understand Yiddish, appreciate his humor (in his songs–on stage I feel differently about), song content, and creativity, only his hit songs are listen to.

    He does not have any successful slow songs because he’s still catering, in that regard, to the Chasidish’e demographic. Ever since he came on the scene (before “Gelt,”) he’s been performing these long winded 9 minute yiddish song, with overly detailed stories about tzadikim and kvechy issues (he could be dubbed as our version of Country Music).

    But if the same music was done by a none Chasidish’e singer (even though MBD and Fried are Chasidish, 90% of their music is Ashkenaz) if would be accepted and become a hit. All the Fried, MBD and Shweky slow songs are either Hebrew (well…really Loshon Kodesh) or English.

    No weddings, kumtzits or mix albums request/feature any Yiddish, chasidish songs, except for Fried’s Nisht Gedaiget Yiddish (which is song in Russian Yiddish and not Hungarian or Polish Yiddish) and MBD’s remake of Dschinghis Khan self title song, Dschinghis Khan, :-)

  17. @MusicDrinker says:

    Wow NOCHUM u know your stuff. btw lchaim tish is a chasidishe production but it somehow got picked up in oter places

  18. Hislahavus says:

    I don’t agree with you, Nochum. Lipa has gained massive popularity across all groups. (Maybe that’s why he cut down on the Yiddish and has been doing more English lately.) Look at his sales and concerts. I think your comment about his songs being “long winded 9 minute yiddish song, with overly detailed stories about tzadikim and kvechy issues” shows that you really don’t care for his messages. More specifically, none of his songs reach anywhere near 9 minutes; only 4 or 5 of his songs are about Tzadikim; and the “kvechy issues” that you talk about are actually important things for people to hear, based as they are in Pirkei Avos, Mussar and Chassidus.

    A wedding, kumzits or mix album does not define greatness, by any means.

  19. Nochum says:

    Hi Hislahavus,

    I agree he’s gained popularity [in none chasidish groups]; however, I made a different point.

    He’s tried to add English songs to his CV, but it’s a given how that’s going.

    His “long” slow songs are precived differently by the general public. My enjoyment of his messages are irrelevant. However (even though this would risk my objectivity) I do carry a bias, for I do appreciate his messages as an artist, as mentioned above.

    To reiterate my point: While Lipa’s slow songs carry meaningful messages, they have not entered the mainstream. Fried, MBD, Shweky, Boruch Levin, Abie Rotenburg (and certainly more) produced multiple slow song hits. It’s abnormal that Lipa, with his stature, has none. (Well…as I explain above it’s not entirely abnormal).

    You accurately highlight that “hits” are subjective and do not necessary reflect my sample size: weddings, concerts, kumzitz, and mix albums, but it does reflect the population to some degree (however none scientific it is). It is an indication of how the audience perceives those “hit” songs.

    e. g. Fried as many none-hit songs that are of equal quality to his “hit” list. His messages in them aren’t the determining factor making them a “hit.”

    In our world there’s no top 40, but there are some variables which enable us to measure perception. I suppose the artist have some system to measure success, for they too need to improve their work.

  20. Hislahavus says:

    Your points are well stated, but I think at the end of the day, it’s CD sales that measures the success. Why are Lipa’s slow songs not sung by the mainstream? Probably because his Yiddish is much better, yet thicker, than most of us are able to garble, and as a result is very difficult to sing. I think Nisht Gedaiget is an outlier on these lines; and besides, it gets fast. How many slow Yiddish songs are there that are sung on a regular basis at Kumzits’n? Very few. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t an important part of Jewish music. I think your premise – that he has a lack of success based on the lack of sung slow songs – is flawed.

    I’ll admit that when a friend first showed me Gelt 10 years ago, I wasn’t interested. The Polish accent threw me off. I don’t remember what it was that caused me to buy Keinehora, but that album made me a fan immediately. My guess is that there are a lot of people who, like me and you, are in the same Ashkenaz, FFB, out-of-town, non-primary-Yiddish, etc. who have become fans and listen to his music often. Yes, I still sing mostly Abie songs, but that doesn’t change my appreciation for Lipa in the slightest. His is a different style music, with a different pull.

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