(Our review on Disc 1 can be found here.)
Fight in the Man: (****) Quite possibly Megama’s greatest song, at least lyrically. Gershon Veroba loves this song, as evidenced by his earlier release of an a cappella version of it (available for free at MostlyMusic.com), which this one is conceptually based off of. I actually like that version better – it may the best a cappella production in Jewish music. He toys with it a bit here, mixing it up. And the final version is not as good as that one, but superb nonetheless. The rolling piano opener licks hot, and it doesn’t stop there. The horns weren’t needed, but fine; harmonies and vocals energetic and thorough. The “Tell me a story” and other inserts are adorable. In the former case, Gershon gives the voices a childish lilt, which is cute. But that earlier version is simply awesome, and if I were doing the production, I’d have simply hijacked the entire thing.
Even Steven – both the Megama original and this one are incredibly fun to listen to. In v. Megama, the amazing thing is how much music those two could make with just a guitar and tambourine – that harsh picking is its heaviest here.
Jack Schwartz: (***) Thankfully, Yess’ partner-in-crime, Shalom Levine, was able to grace us with one more performance before he passed on. And here he shines. You might even say he gets a hole-in-one. He sings laissez faire, fitting the easy blues arrangement. Did we really need the sound effects tossed in gratuitously? Nope – shoulda stuck with more of that delightful piano and bass. Despite that, great take on this piece of melodic sarcasm.
Miser of the Town: (***) Another little maasehle told beautifully and emotionally, by Sam Glaser. The arrangement is full once again. Percussion gets a notable mention, as well as the keys once again. Just a delight. (And for those of you who were wondering about the story, yes, it’s true – the rabbi was Rabbi Yomtov Lippman Heller, author of the Tosfos Yom Tov. And here’s the link to the sequel, the incredible story of the miser’s grandchild! Scroll down to the section called “A Slice of Life”.)
Throw Away That Ham: (***) A stroke of genius takes this song, which is admittedly… err… ham-handed, and truly brings home the bacon. (My thanks to Asterix for that work of pun-ditry.) The rough beatboxing and keeping (but updating) the kazoo are led splendidly by Menachem Weinstein, whose talent is quite clear even with a song as silly as this. I love the interruption of the kazoo and the segue into a modern kosher hip-hop piece composed by Weinstein, and the return right back as if nothing happened. Makes the song far more interesting to listen to, and pretty funny at the same time.
Kicks the original, while retaining its best moments – the wacky kazoo, the fuzzy vocals, and even the heavenly “Ooohhh!” Kooky it always was; now it’s artistic and modern kooky.
Forty Days: (*****) SoulFarm reenters the arena, with a song that seems like it was tailored just for them. A bluesy swinger on the Biblical flood (similar to Diaspora’s The Flood, but much more fun). Some ear candy presented by Lanzbom’s guitar, and let’s not forget some more original and playful vocal work, and it’s all around just a great production – my favorite SoulFarm performance, and one of the best works on the album.
Gimme a Minyan: (****) In perhaps what was an ode to all the original BT groups, Yosi Piamenta joins Avraham Rosenblum to perform this amusing work. Rosenblum moves to a Bob Dillon-esque style of vocals that frankly I find far less than the original called for. The drums could have been more expressive in the opening notes. But Yosi’s guitar is always what to make your ear smile, introduced as it is with Rosenblum’s gleeful cry of, “Yosiiiii!” For younger fans, the funky lyrics will immediately conjure images of 8th Day’s lyric sheets. And one of these days, maybe someone will explain to me what was up with Shlomo and his pogo stick.
Why DID AR play with the tune like that?! In any case, Yosi Piamenta fit this perfectly, as it is one of the very few songs that Yess pulled out his electric guitar. So I’m tormented – I’d stick with the original vocals, but anytime Piamenta appears in a recording studio, I get happy.
Olam Haba: (**) Baruch Chait – when’s the last time he appeared in a recording studio? And while I like his gentle work on this song, and I like the unsophisticated arrangements, I do not like the lyrics at all, from a theological standpoint. Firstly, we serve G-d for that purpose, not for the point of receiving reward, even though we do get reward. See Pirkei Avot ch. 1, quoting Antignos of Socho, on that. Secondly, the term Olam Haba actually refers to Techiyas Hameisim, not Gan Eden. And regarding Techiyas Hameisim, the first Mishna in chapter 11 of Sanhedrin states clearly that ALL Jews have a portion in Olam Haba, besides for certain very egregious sinners. So… nope. Not my cuppa tea.
That’s My Boy: (**) Rivie Schwebel’s delicate baritone sets the stage for this song. I’ve never been a fan of it, though, so while I admire his effort, the lyrics are just a bit too saccharine for me. I know there are lots of people who liked this song back in the day, and I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t do so with this version. All that besides for the few seconds at 3:52, where it seems that Schwebel’s voice was pasted onto the track one second off. If it was shtick, it doesn’t come off that well.
Star of David: (****) Classic 60’s, or maybe even 50s rock, is the sound for this guitar-led mover. And Lenny Solomon has it all the way, singing with energy that matches the instrumentation. Love the solo drum aside the duo harmonics at 2:10, and all around, it just is easy to listen to and very enjoyable.
One slight kvetch – I’ve always liked Moshe’s filler chord-work here, and I think that should have been kept.
Good Ship Wandering Jew: (***) Here’s a pill-sized version of the history of the Jewish people. Yerachmiel Ziegler excels at taking this simple song one notch up the rigging with his elegant treatment. Instead of just a gentle guitar, a complete arrangement gives it proper treatment. A song I had barely noticed before is given a second life – yashar koach.
A perfect match – Ziegler does a wonderful tribute to Yess.
Frum Wives: (**) I certainly didn’t expect Country Yossi to come out of nowhere, and here he is, with a performance that would fit perfectly on one of his own records – think Boy Named Zlateh, Phantom of the Shteeble, and other speech-type-performance laid over the music. (There must be a name to the style, but I don’t know it.) The theme – frum women are the best – is a bit of overkill for an album, but if anyone was gonna do it fittingly and well, it’d be Country Yossi.
Ain’t No Bishul: (***) This silly comedic country ditty is a shiur presented by Yeshivas Mid-Texas. Reb Aaron Holder relishes the piece, and gives it gusto. A full Texan sound conjures images of an expansive ranch and a farmer with straw in his mouth and a Shulchan Aruch Hilchos Shabbos in one hand. Toss in wah wah guitar and a basic trumpet solo and I for one get a kick out of it!
Go See Your Mother: (***) Here we have a duet between Veroba and Ziegler, which includes the most perfectly placed doorbell in a song. Ever. This number is a sister to “Treat Her Kind”, focusing instead on your mother. (Kindly refrain from inserting the obligatory “your momma” joke. Thanks.) Sweet little thing, exactly as it was meant to be, with a lovely guitar solo at the end that gives it a real reason to listen to, besides the guilt trip.
G-d is My Strength and My Song: (***) Ziegler appears again, successfully taking another little-known but supremely positive piece. It was important to keep the sound squarely in the bluegrass zone. And they do so, with Statman reappearing, but we’re wishing he’d had more work to do on this. The soft banjo and fiddle round it out elegantly though.
Mountain Dew: (***) A little of the “Huh?” effect with this no frills, live around the campfire conversation and song, with Moshe pluckin’ out an old cowpoke ditty. While no one is asking Dr. A. J. Twerski about his opinion on it, this is a fun little ending, bringing Moshe Yess’ personality to the listener in a very real way – no studio, no audience, no acting – just Moshe and a buddy around a campfire somewhere in northern Canada. While I don’t listen to this song often, it’s a touching finale.
So which songs should, in my opinion, have been in, and which out? Assuming we’d keep the even 30 number, I’d put three in – Dear G-d, Prayer Book Blues, and Young Girl Named Maria. And I’d take Olam Haba, Frum Wives and That’s My Boy out. (Mountain Dew would be another one we could take out, but I understand the pull towards it.)
In comparison with the first album, this is a bit weaker, with, to me, the 4 least songs of the collection on the same album, and 2 others that are purely there for the comedic element. It still has a great sound to it in any case, and given that it’s a double album, you’re not out – the strength of the total collection gives it its value.
As for the total production? Great job, folks. The artists put their a-game up, and you can tell – they’re all having a good time. The goal was to make this classic music more accessible to a new generation, and I think they’ll succeed at that. Time will tell – but you can tell with the timeless.
If this hasn’t intrigued you enough to buy the originals, I don’t know what will. You can get them at the Moshe Yess Tribute site, http://mosheyess.ca/. And if you don’t care for that classic scratchy sound of vinyl, well even if you do, you can’t go wrong with this beautiful album!