Wow! Ladies and gentleman, it has been waaay too long! Let me give you an update of the past few months. I got a new keyboard, I spilled soda on my computer and got it fixed (except for the much needed backspace key) and my friend got a new bi… Ok, JTop, I need you to focus a little here. This is not one of your random Facebook status updates; it’s an article for a professional website. Sorry, just some thoughts spilling out… At any rate, there are two reasons for my lack of articles over the past few months; the first being my terminal laziness in regards to registering my highly touted opinion on worthy musical material. The other reason is that I don’t feel comfortable writing an insincere opinion on something that is not worthy of my time. I mean what type of person would I be if I make insincere statements just to make people like me and give me their vote of approval? I would be kind of like that guy who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20500. In this album I found a wonderful opportunity to rejuvenate my floundering, yet lucrative position at JMR of Chief (Re)Distributor of Musical Malarkey (Yes, I noticed the political undertones in this paragraph but if you don’t like it sponsor a new computer for me with a functional backspace key and also shock therapy technology to combat nonsensical writing. All major credit or debit cards accepted. There will be a $35 fee for all returned checks.) Just kidding. If this is your first time on the site check out my other reviews as well as the other well written articles from my fellow writers. I can guarantee you’ll be duly impressed. Ok, now let’s have a looksee at the album:
Yesh Tikvah- I’ve just realized that I haven’t introduced the artist at all, presumably in my haste to reestablish my gradually deteriorating mental state of mind. So, before I begin wowing you with my vast musical knowledge I will do so. Benny Friedman is the nephew of the legendary Avraham Fried and, not surprisingly, sounds exactly like him except for his vocal range. This being said, their musical styles and aspirations, shall we say, are completely different. Avraham Fried generally sticks to more of a mainstream song selection while his nephew tends to lean towards more of a “Technoey”, if you will genre. On that note, I will begin reviewing the title track which does in fact feature a techno/hora style that has become the rage in Jewish music as of late (Hofachto, Kvodo, Niggun Chabad just to name a few). Composed by Ari Goldwag and arranged by Ian Freitor, this song has a really catchy beat and tune which is perfect for dancing. Approximately 2:40 in there is an interlude which gives me the feeling that I’m standing in the middle of a dance club and the DJ wants to check his email so he tones down the music a little. Once he sadly sees that nothing of earth-shattering significance has been sent to him within the past 5 minutes he cranks up the music with a vengeance, highlighted by an awesome synth sound that closely resembles a police siren. To fend off the inevitable comments on this picture I’ve painted for you that will be posted by well-meaning and sincere people regarding the stigma (or prohibition) associated with dance clubs in the Jewish world I say this in advance: “I have never been, nor do I ever plan to be found in a dance club. This metaphor was just that – a metaphor. Also, the fact that you’re attempting to guide me in the “right direction”, so to speak, means that you’re accessing the internet… Oh no! Please, don’t fire me! The backspace key, it – it’s broken! Oy… I guess I’ll have to be really careful from here on out… So, anyways where was I? Oh yes, I was talking about the rise and fall of the beat in this song. The song ends rather abruptly and inconspicuously (I won’t use any more DJ examples for fear of sealing my fate) and kind of gives me the feeling that someone snatched something very valuable away from me such as Sam, my keyboard. While I agree with the concept of this ending, I think listeners would have been better served had there been a more significant fade away ending, perhaps with some percussive pads and/or heavy synth sounds prevailing for a measure or two afterwards. Well, even I’m starting to get dizzy with all this musical jargon so I’ll wrap things up here. One more thing is noteworthy though, and that is the lyrics co-written by Miriam Israeli and Ari Goldwag which preach immense hope and faith. Now it’s time to proceed onwards so I will rate this guaranteed hit 8.5 out of 10 stars.
Haboicher- This song is a hard rock expertly arranged by Leib Ya’akov Rigler whom I’ve usually associated with the orchestral genre of music but hey, there are times that people associate me with being a normal and functional member of society so whaddya know? I like the low part more than the high part which is your typical 8th Day tune (although I do appreciate the somewhat random substitution of a B for a Bmi at the end). Incidentally, Bentzi Marcus of 8th Day did compose this song which also features Yitzy Spinner contributing with background vocals. At 2:10 in there is a bass solo improvising on one of the refrains played throughout the song which is probably one of the first in Jewish music since Gabay’s Sim Shalom. Shortly thereafter, the Eye of The Tiger begins playing to accompany the high part (admit it, you’re all thinking that). I’m not sure if this will ever make it big but whatever the case may be, it’s a pretty solid song and I will give it 7.5 out of 10 stars.
B’Sheim Hashem- When I first heard this song in the audio sampler on Mostlymusic.com I was very pleasantly surprised as I was privy to this gem well before even Benny heard it. A good friend of mine, who humbly prefers to hide behind the cloak of anonymity, was heavily involved in the making of this gorgeous 3/4 although he’d also rather I don’t reveal the exact details of his participation. It’s just kind of cool that I heard it so many years ago and now it’s suddenly being sung by a professional singer with professional musicians. Speaking of the devil, Leib Ya’akov Rigler does it yet again with these sweet and to the point arrangements which I have to admit are much more appropriate than my own initial ones when I first played the song. The majority of the song consists of relaxingly delicate fingerpicking, mainly on an acoustic guitar. The second time around there is a nice simple trumpet playing and it’s probably Jim Hynes but may possibly be Crew (how long did it take you to figure that one out?). The Ma7 chord in the high part is clichéd but classy. One thing that was unexpected comes at a little bit after 4 minutes in when Benny suddenly modulates the song to a b5 higher and has the entire band join in for the first time. After a little while, the music once again subsides into fingerpicking and ends with a nice, albeit interesting chord progression. This song illustrates Benny’s ability to sing from the soul; something he no doubt inherited (to an extent) from his prestigious uncle. Marc Levine composed and also sings on the track which earns 8 out of 10 stars from me.
Maaleh Ani- Here we have another 8th day style song although this one is composed by Elimelech Blumstein. It’s quite obvious just from listening to this rock that it was arranged by a guitarist. Aryeh Kuntsler definitely earns my respect for these arrangements because unlike a lot of guitarists nowadays he’s actually also a musician. He’s not simply about shredding and power chords (although there’s no shortage of that in this song) as many famous guitarists tend to be. Ari Goldwag also lent his talent again with the background vocals and composition of the introduction. Will this be the next hit amongst Yeshiva bochurim? That remains the 16 trillion dollar question (see above for issues with this statement). If I had it my way it would simply be considered a filler song albeit a catchy one. Then again, if I had things my way I’d be playing in a professional band, would not be required to submit to the rigorous editing deemed necessary by the administrator of this website and 7-11 in Monsey would make their hot dog prices more coherent. Sorry, I’ve got writers block (and no it’s not a preexisting condition developed when I first started writing for JMR). No need to worry or fret though, the best is yet to come (i.e. musically). 6 out of 10 stars.
Shalom Aleichem- This song starts out with segments from what are arguably the two most common Shalom Aleichems sung on Shabbos night. Somehow I don’t think the lead voice of the first segment is actually a real soprano but it does the trick either way. I was able to perceive intuitively from the outset that this wasn’t going to be an old style song. It gradually transforms itself into quite a formidable techno/hora. Ari Goldwag composed the song with Ian Freitor taking the helm for the adequate arrangements. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the choir (under the leadership of Moshe Roth) which did a fantastic job in the introduction and throughout the song. Again, whether or not this song really takes off is the 16 tril – ok sorry, not that funny the second time. But you get the picture. Personally, I like this song a lot and I believe it has plenty of potential hence a rating (as of now) of 8.5 out of 10 stars from me.
Mamleches Kohanim- Something about this song reminds me of one of the songs from Benny’s first album though I can’t quite put my finger on it. It has a very slow and enjoyable tune which is sung expertly by Benny but I would still like to hear Avremel sing this one. Around 2:20 in the song launches into a remarkably powerful 4/4 rock ballad followed by a doubly remarkable guitar solo complete with overdubs executed presumably by Avi Singolda although it’s entirely possible Oz Noy and/or Aryeh Kuntsler did it. This is a great example of the point I mentioned above. If someone knows how to play a guitar musically without just shredding superfluously all the time they can convert it into one of the most soulful, expressive and dynamic instruments. Elimelech Blumstein composed this stunner with Ian Freitor once again doing a superb job of arranging the song. Something that did not sit right with me however ,was the G chord at 0:39 in. No offense Ian, but it’s a little bland for my taste. Speaking of chords the song ends off on a very interesting one which is just a bit too long and complex for this article. It sort of fades away and leaves the listener suspended in mid-air… 9 out of 10 stars.
Ivdu- The proverbial listener is then brought crashing down to earth with what is probably my favorite song on the album. It starts off with a very long and protracted introduction which may be bordering on overkill but I still approve. It contains a chord progression which contextually, at least, sounds ultra-funky. The song itself has a contagious bouncy disco beat that sounds like something Avremi G cooked up. But as has been taking place at an alarmingly high rate recently, I’m wrong – again! Yaron Gershovsky, who is best known for his world class piano skills lends his vast musical expertise in this instant hit composed by Benny himself and Yoni Eliav. A highlight of the song for me occurs at around 2:50 in when the keyboardist (either Yaron or possibly Ian Freitor) executes a perfectly balanced synthesizer solo not too insipid yet not containing a surplus of pizzazz. It doesn’t sound incredibly complicated to figure out or even to play but it has the main quality of what a solo is all about – improvisation. If this song doesn’t make it to the top of chasuna playlists I’ll voluntarily stop writing for JMR! 9.5 out of 10 stars.
Dor Acharon- This has a very simple 4/4 oom-pah beat with a tune and overall feel reminiscent of old M.B.D. dinner music. Composed by Elimelech Blumstein and arranged by Ian Freitor it features a keyboardist emulating a mandolin in the background quite accurately, I might add. This is one of those “Niggun Neshomaesque” rare breed of songs which can be played over and over a myriad of times without the average listener resorting to iPod and/or computer smashing (i.e. if they haven’t already done so from reading my articles). I’m not sure I really dig the ending too much which takes place in a rather abrupt fashion. I feel the intro should’ve been played once more before the song ended. I know it’s clichéd but it would’ve left the listener with a feeling of the song being resolved. Then again, it may have been done intentionally to encourage repetition of the song. I would venture to say the latter was the motivation of Ian. 9 out of 10 stars.
Vahavioisim- Is this rap I hear? No, thank goodness Jewish music hasn’t crossed that barrier just yet. What we do have here is Jewish music toeing the line with a watered down R&B Soul Ballad, if you will, one that would make Mo Kiss and the Kol Noar Boys Choir foam at the mouth. Yitzy Waldner composed the song and somehow I’m not very inclined to think he got it from his Rebbe. Of course that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all but it should paint a clearer picture of the song for you. I do like the tune and the music although I don’t think it matches as far as the style is concerned. I think maybe a simpler ballad would’ve been just fine but nonetheless Ian Freitor once again illustrates his musical prowess in this song. He also deserves credit for coordinating with Yitzy Spinner (who sings the background vocals) and having him overdub his vocals to form an Emi9. Speaking of singing, has anyone noticed that I haven’t focused enough on Benny? It seems that I have musical ADD when it comes to writing. Anyways, Benny demonstrates his ability to run the gamut by singing this potentially controversial song which as such earns a rating of 7 out of 10 stars from me.
Dawn of Moshiach- Yaron Gershovsky begins this catchy song by accompanying Benny pianistically (Bug off spellcheck, I like the word!) before it switches to a decidedly funky disco for the majority of the song. Elimelech Blumstein and Ian Freitor are once again featured while Yitzy Spinner contributes yet again with background vocals. The words, which are found in Haggadah Shel Pesach convey a powerful and inspirational message which is briefly, yet poignantly explained on the jacket cover and I quote verbatim: “Moshiach’s dawn will bring not only a brighter future, but a brighter past; for then we will look back and see how everything was good. The darkness was really light, and the day was even brighter than we had realized. So please, bring it on!” Basically, it’s expounding on the popular adage of hindsight is always 20/20 (except apparently, in the case of American voters). The song has various flavors contained within including but not limited to Yitzy Spinner, Benny Friedman’s first album and even if only for a short moment Matisyahu. I’m too lazy to find the exact time of this last one so I challenge all of my readers to find it and post the answer in the comments section. One thing that is beyond me is the glaring lack of slap bass throughout the song especially where the music clearly warrants it! I really don’t have an answer for that one but who am I to argue with a great musical talent like Ian Freitor? All in all this definitely is hit-making material and I expect it will become one; hence a rating of 8.5 out of 10 stars from me.
Berachamim- This is a beautiful yet original sounding song composed by Ari Goldwag and arranged by Ian Freitor as a calming yet powerful 16 beat ballad. I can just imagine Avraham Fried singing the high part, his voice breaking at certain points. However, it’s not fair that I should be comparing the two especially when it’s not as if Benny was awful. No, quite the contrary he sang more than adequately. Yitzy Spinner is yet again featured as a backup vocalist in this song and Ari Goldwag also sings some verses. There isn’t too much more praise I can heap on this song as it gets a 9 out of 10 stars rating from me.
There are many people out there who insist that every time they hear Benny Friedman they can’t help but compare him with his uncle, myself included. Of those people many are naysayers and claim that he’s playing second fiddle to his more talented uncle. I have one word to say to that which I have been holding onto just for an occasion such as this: Pah! Is the greatest musician in the world anywhere close in talent to Dovid Hamelech or even L’havdil, Beethoven? No they aren’t, but does that mean that they don’t have any talent? Of course not! The same is true in this situation. Benny has a very loyal following of fans that if anything, is more diverse than Avraham Fried’s. They are both extremely talented in their own unique ways. While this album will most likely not have the same explosive impact on the Jewish music world as did Benny’s first one (there aren’t any No Lyrics Niggun caliber songs), there are still plenty of quality songs to go around. I will rate this album 8 out of 10 stars and if you haven’t already purchased the CD I would strongly recommend that you do so by visiting either http://www.mostlymusic.com/yesh-tikvah.html or your local Judaica store if you prefer the old fashioned method. As always, your comments, questions and suggestions are more than welcome below. Your criticisms are also welcomed but be aware that I will not tolerate chutzpah!!!