Hislahavus’ Review of Fried’s Ah Mechaye

General — By on October 1, 2013 7:07 am

Avraham Fried - A Mechaya!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There had been a bit of a clamor of voices asking Avremel to return to a Yiddish album. After all, his Yiddish Gem series, along with his many random Yiddish songs scattered across his discography, have an energy that is all their own. Much of that can be chalked up to the linguistic genius of R’ Yom Tov Ehrlich, but a lot of it can also be chalked up to Avremel’s own natural – and obvious – love of the language. Yiddish is unique; it’s colorful and expressive, with a flair for the dramatic. As a pseudo-linguist myself, and as someone who dabbles in other languages, I find that it emphasizes things in a subtle way that other languages cannot.

So here we are – Ah Mechaye! And when you think of Yiddish music, a few things come to mind: Klezmer, Chassidisher niggunim, Yiddish theatre, lullabies, and the more recent, Lipa-style Yiddish work. It seems that Avremel collected a bit of all the above on this album, keeping a gentle balance of the new and the old while injecting that Yiddish fire und flamm.

The primary focus of the album is, without question, on the lyrics and vocals. The arrangement overall has a fairly modern sound with a clearly old-time undercurrent. Each song flows easily into the next, and you’ll find yourself reflecting on the messages often. Well, at least, if you speak Yiddish. If you don’t, no worries – the album liner notes translate everything for you, with the addition of some friendly comments from the singer himself.

Onto this delightful album:

Arois: (***) Starting off with an old folkie sound, acoustic guitar and accordion leading the way. The tune and lyrics are fairly standard, but as always, Avremel’s energetic inflections give it that additional element. The faux-end at 3:54 slides into a cool ending for the song.

A Freilichen Tisha B’Av: (***) Great concept and original lyrics, pulled together by a well-known figure, but new to the Jewish pop scene – Rabbi Dr. A. J. Twerski. What makes this song particularly enjoyable is the unique combination of Hilchos Tisha B’Av and midrashim on Moshiach. The tune, again, is standard; typical Jewish pop arrangement. It also could have used a bit more of an original ending, rather than the simple fade-out.

Ich Bin Ich: (*****) If you were getting worried, fear not – this album has some real treasures! And here’s one. I’ve kvetched about Avremel’s song intros before, but this one is just perfect! A brilliant comment by the Kotzker becomes a mind-bending (and stuck-in-your-head catchy) swing ditty. Great work on the horns and percussion lends great back-up to Fried’s ease with the mike. The song retains an element of the live feel, despite the studio overdubs. And hopefully, it’ll leave you with the echoing, probing question of, “Ver bist du?!” This song is the total package – vocals, arrangement, backups and band fit together just so.

Mein Tatten’s a Kind: (*****) With a page taken from the conversational niggunim (like R’ Levi Yitzchak Berditchever’s Kaddish), Avremel launches into a one-sided diatribe against his Yetzer Hara. Yes, it’s awesome. Even got me wondering for a moment if it was an actual niggun – at least until I heard the ancient terms “fun di ershte class” and “vacation”. This may have been influenced by Shuly Rand’s Asuy M’Avanim Tovot, but here it’s far more practical and relatable. The opening piano has Yaron Gershovsky’s distinctive sound all over it, and Avremel rolls right into it perfectly, with a sincere and honest touch that couldn’t be better. What can I tell you? This one gets me thinking every time I hear it… At 4:17 and on, Avremel blows the YH away with a powerful cry (recalling the penultimate rhyme of Chad Gadya) on the higher reaches of the stratosphere, and then launches back into the truly uplifting chorus. This song is a real farbrengen – it’ll clear any clogged spiritual arteries.

Lomir: (****) A musty oldie gets a bit of a face-lift. This song reminds me of a summer I spent in the former Soviet Union, and of an older congregant who wouldn’t stop singing it… And here it reappears (ironically on the same album as the aforementioned Dr. Twerski), with a more modern framing – reverb on the electric guitar in particular. But the song really rocks out with its new bridge at 2:57, and the power horns at 3:20. Way to freshen up an ancient tune!

Ah Mechaye: (***) I’m torn on this one. On one hand, I love the concept (again): the entire premise is based on the double entendre of the term “Mechaye” with regards to G-d. But the tune is a whimsical, theatrical piece that doesn’t give any of the necessary gravitas of the idea – at least without Avremel’s cantoral moves towards the end (2:50 and onwards). The match having been made in any case without my dubious input, it’s still a very ear-pleasing song, with a very pretty arrangement and pitch-perfect choir. This is one of those songs that I find critique in the first time I listen to it, but the critiques eventually fall away.

Bentch: (****) It ain’t a modern album without a hora. And here’s another Maamar Chazal that gets good mention – especially coming from a Kohen. Some fun special effects are tossed in with the occasional voice distortion and backup vocals, as well as the funky intermission of sorts, in which Reb Avremel calls out that incomparable philanthropist, R’ Sami Rohr. Fun piece.

Meine Tefillin: (***) This one – with an orchestral arrangement that is straight out of Broadway – Lipa returns to his original claim to fame, that superb Yiddish poetic ability to bring to life a maaseh’leh. With the orchestra working on all cylinders, Avremel follows suit, particularly with his emotional cry echoing R’ Levi Yitzchak Berditchever’s.

Lebedik Lebedik: (*****) This song echoes in my memory from G-d knows where… But consider this simchadik oldie to be officially resurrected and played at weddings near you – what an awesome dance tune! Excellent production on this piece, with lots to listen to in the background should you be one of those who need to sink into the music. And Avremel’s playful singing at 3:18 is a stroke of brilliance. I only wish the violin solo was given to a true virtuoso – what could a musician of the caliber of Andy Statman have done with that?!

A Gutte Voch: (***) Here’s another oldie that Fried is mechayeh. (Okay, now I’m guilty of that pun as well.) I honestly got a kick out of his well-placed comments in the intro. This piece is nostalgia at its best – gentle, soothing and picturesque. Issues? Well, the mandolin halfway through could have been lifted a bit higher in the mix. Besides that? None. Sweet stuff.

Zei A Gutter Yid: (**1/2) Yet another classic, a lullaby. Pretty, as could be expected, but it could have done with more authentic instrumentation and less keyboard. And mia apologia, but a bit of a cringe-inducing finale with a child’s stating “Ich vel zain a gitte Yid”… Nah, shvach execution.

Torah Di Beste Schoire: (****) This classic, however, follows perfectly in concept from the previous track. But this time, the children’s vocals are perfectly placed; Avremel’s vocals are powerful and urgent. Further into the song (2:48), his gentle teaching demeanor sounds authentic and hartzig. The child’s solo is both youthful and professional. The arrangement again wisely holds shtark with trombones and clarinet throughout, but holding to the electro-hum and gentle guitar strumming during your visit to cheder.

Oib Nisht Kein Emunah: (****) Another fun intro to this oldie. Anyone know where it’s originally from? Sounds Lubavitch – but offhand, I know of no such source. The intro piano departs a bit from the olde-tyme of the horns, which really set the mood for the whole piece, but not too distracting. And again, Fried exhibits a variety of vocal shtick as he works through the whole Alef-Beis of the song. Another fantastic song, with fantastic production. And more considerate rhymes to propel you onwards.

This is a heartwarming and thought-provoking album – a truly worthy successor to Yiddish Gems. It has a sound that is both familiar and new, and exhibits no truly weak links. It hits all the notes you’d expect it to, along with some definitely impressive surprises: for me, at least, the background vocals and random comments are superb and lots of fun. They add color and character to what might have been otherwise just cliche. If you don’t speak Yiddish, you’ll be missing much of the fun, but you’ll have plenty to enjoy despite that. Mad props – err, a groysen, hartziken Yashar Koach – to Avremi G. on the arrangements: I really feel he did an excellent job balancing and updating the old klezmer sound. In my humble opinion, this album will find fans of both tastes, and that was not a simple task to tackle. And of course, Avraham Fried: over the past few albums in particular, he’s revealed himself to be not just a sensational singer, but a talented composer with a sensitive soul.  Tachlis: Another great album from today’s reigning king of Jewish music. It may be cliche, but this album is ah … nah, I won’t say it. That’s YOUR job!

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14 Comments

  1. Meir says:

    Hislahavus,

    Great review, thank you for taking the time. I love this album and have been playing it non-stop for weeks already. Like you said, it makes you think a little.

    -Digression Warning-

    I hate to say this but Avraham Fried is (IMHO) the one of the very few artists on the Jewish music scene today that actually sounds like he cares about the lyrics he sings. That’s what makes this, and so many of his other albums, a cut above the rest.

    A recent article on this website argued with the notion that JM “in the olden days” was better than modern JM. While I don’t disagree entirely (JM today is much better produced and wider-ranging etc), This new album by Avraham Fried does a nice job of showing just how shallow a lot of Jewish Music has gotten in the past couple of decades. (I think it’s a lot more than the language. Lots of mediocre Yiddish songs out there)

    I’m not an expert, just a guy who likes Jewish music and finds himself gravitating towards older JM and select new JM.

    -Digression Complete-

    Thanks again,

    Meir

  2. Chossid says:

    Hislahavus,
    I always enjoy your reviews, as I feel they are a cut above the rest, in being hones and as a professional opinion.
    Though I understand each is entitled to his own opinion, I must disagree with you on some of your comments and ratings.
    “Meine Tefillin” three stars?! Please tell me that was a mistake! What more of a masterpiece can we have asked for? The lyrics, tune, and hartzige execution of this song is almost unmatched!
    As for Lebedik Lebedik, I didn’t see anything to amazing in it.
    The song Ah Mechaye, though interesting in style (as you mention) is ultimately very enjoyable and I fully understand how you are torn over it.
    As a whole? An amazing album, though Yiddish Gems (specifically vol. 1) still takes the cake, and ah mechaye is only a shadow of the great Yiddish talent of Yom Tov Ehrlich.
    And by the way, though it is sometimes nice, the talking and narrations at times is a bit overdone and gets a bit overbearing… if you know what I mean.
    Thank you very much for a great review! Keep ’em coming!

  3. Hislahavus says:

    Meir – we’re on the same page regarding song/lyric choices.
    Chossid – Re Meine Tefillin, you’re making me rethink that one… :-). But Lebedik Lebedik is exactly that. A fun, lively wedding tune… It has a pshitus that is all its own: sincere and joyful.
    As for the narration, I understand your issue, but it made it more relate-able for me. I’d understand your frustration if it were a regular album, but as a Yiddish album, I think it’s meant to be about more than the song per se – it’s more of a conversation of sorts. Fair?

    And no, you can’t beat the genius of Yom Tov Ehrlich. But this did a great job nevertheless.

  4. Music613 says:

    I am with Chossid. Mein Tefillin IMHO is the best song on the album. Yup you heard me.The Best. It is a masterpiece. FIVE STARS.
    Chazal, in there impeccable wisdom coined the phrase:
    Al hatam v’al ha’reiach ayn l’hitvakeyach. Af al pee ken. I’m shocked at the three stars. If meine tefilin doesn’t deserve five stars, no other song on this album does either.
    Just my humble opinion.

  5. Meir says:

    Chossid and Music 613,

    I agree 100%. This is the best song on an album that is already far ahead of the rest…

  6. Avremi G says:

    Thanks for your kind words. Just to clarify. I did not arrange the entire CD. I did 4 songs. Mein Tfilin. A Guht Voch, Torah Di beste Schoirah and Oib Nisht. I feel honoured to be amongst the other fine arrangers who made this CD special.

  7. Hislahavus says:

    Looks like I’m in the minority – not the first time. ;-) While I’m reconsidering a 3 (not as if I’m the ultimate judge here), I don’t find it the best on the album.

    Reb G, I’ll have to find my PDF and update my comments. Thanks for correcting me on that – but my compliments are still applicable, in all four of those excellent songs. Yashar Koach!

  8. Chossid says:

    Hislahavus,
    Seems I have garnered some support for Meine Tefillin. I still can not understand how you don’t view it as one of the top on this album, and it seems the majority disagrees with you. But each to his own opinion.
    Also, I knew right away WITHOUT seeing the booklet that Avremi G did not arrange the whole cd. Avremi seems to take the couple of instruments he decides to work with and sticks to them, and it almost has the same sound as a concert, where it is the same couple of instruments for it all. Other arrangers seem to be more flexible at arrangements. For example, I never heard an arrangement like Yesh Tikvah (or bentsh bentsh for that matter) coming from Avremi.
    Though Avremi, you have always had a very Chassidishe Yiddishe taam in your arrangements. I say this as a Lubavitcher and a relative of yours ;)
    You seem to have revived the pure Yiddish spirit in the four songs you arranged, and meine tefillin is your work – what a masterpiece!
    On the album, the opening song is good, but starts off a bit on the low not exciting side. I don;t know why, but A Fried starts his Chassidishe albums on the not exciting side. Don;t know why.
    And I still stick to my comment that his Shtick and commentary is too much. A little is always nice and Heimish, but every ten seconds for more is at times a bit too much.

  9. Meir says:

    Favorite Yiddish Vocabulary Word: Fareeble

  10. Meir says:

    Chossid,

    I feel like Fried likes his Chabad and Yiddish albums a bit “under-arranged”. The idea being that it’s less about the music than the lyrics and feeling of the songs. Highly arranged music (i.e. a huge string section coupled with heavy electric guitar etc…) would take the spotlight off the more central lyrics and feel/”hergish” of the album.

    Kudos to Avromi G. for all his excellent work in this area. To this day my all time favorite arrangements on an album remain Avromi G’s incomparable arrangements on Fried’s “Aveinu Malkeinu” especially the song “Ein od Milvado”.

    Chazak!

    Meir

  11. Avremi G says:

    Chosid, appreciate the comments. On Mein Tfilin I used 22 musicians. So much for a ‘couple of instruments’. If you mean that I have a proclivity toward the acoustic/orchestral sound (vs. electronic/techno)- guilty as charged! Check out Tana by Dovid Gabay – a techno arrangement I did some years ago.

  12. Music613 says:

    Thank you Avremi G. for the beautiful arrangements.
    A special Yasher Koach for the stunning arrangement of Mein Tefilin.

    IMHO what made Mein Tefillin so uplifting was the perfect timing of the lyrics, orchestration and Averemels piercing cry Mein Tfilin.

    All in all Mein Teffilin just klapped. It wasn’t a theatrical piece as some of the other numbers in this album; but rather it was told in story form, in true Yom Tov Ehrlich mode. (Similar to MBD’s Hillel in Ich hub gevart)

    In summary: Ersht Classic.

  13. Harold Gee says:

    I am going to buy this CD as soon as possible, having just heard the Album excerpts and whole of Arois. I just can’t understand how Arois only got 3 stars. This song had ‘Inspiration’ written all over it. You just have to look at the cover,scenery and instrumentalists to realise this. I would like learn the Yiddish words so I hope they are written somewhere on or with the album.

  14. Hislahavus says:

    :-) Boy, my star ratings on this article really disagree with you guys! Zol Zain – I write what I feel, and I’m just happy that everyone is enjoying this beautiful album so much! Aderaba; better everyone should think the songs are even better than I thought than the opposite… The Yiddish lyrics are written out in the liner notes that come with the CD.

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