The most hyped album of the year has finally hit record store shelves. After a wait of more than three years, Ninet Tayeb has released Yechafa (Barefoot), and although the person on the cover of the album no longer looks anything like the aspiring pop star who won the first edition of A Star is Born in 2003, her fans have remained almost obsessively faithful.
The album went gold in just 24 hours after its release, but despite its popularity, some of the singer's unique charm is missing here. Tayeb showed off a colorful and textured voice during the reality TV series, but on this album her musical collaborators have molded her voice to suit their own tastes and arrangements. The title track best exemplifies the Svengali hold the album's artistic director, singer Aviv Gefen, evidently had over Tayeb during Yechafa's production. His presence is obvious, even on the songs he didn't compose.
The opening song recounts the singer's dramatic rise to fame, which started in the periphery town of Kiryat Gat and has taken her to the summit of Israel's celebrity culture. Tayeb's physical transformation suggests she's embraced that culture to a considerable degree, so when she sings, "I want to return to my small town ... take me away from here," one has to wonder whether she really means it.
Yechafa was supposed to prove Tayeb's mettle as a singer of original material after several years performing covers. But again, the songs she sings are not her own - five musicians joined Gefen in helping create this album. She co-wrote the lyrics for only two songs, "Yadati She'tachzor" (I Knew You'd Return) and "Hee Yodaat" (She Knows). "Kshe'ata Kan" (While You're Here) and "Hakol Yachol Likrot" (Anything Can Happen) have dominated the airwaves, but the musical arrangements on these tracks override Tayeb's vocal gifts, just like most of the album's other songs. Of the 12 tracks, listeners only get two chances to hear Tayeb truly sing: on "Im Tavo" (If You Come) and "Booba" (Doll). The musical arrangements on "Im Tavo" in particular are mercifully minimal, and it's here that Tayeb's voice can finally be heard.
When she's not clamoring to project her voice over the music, Tayeb's singing is actually charming, even graceful. Her pitch on "Booba" sounds natural and is very affecting; it makes one wonder why the song is both the shortest and last on the album. Though most of Tayeb's fans seem to stick by her no matter what she does, Yechafa, when judged solely on its artistic merit, proves a disappointingly weak debut.
Napoli - Tel Aviv
Achinoam Nini, longtime musical partner Gil Dor and the Solis String Quartet of Naples have put together an entertaining, traditional Italian album - in Hebrew. As Nini explains in the album's cover booklet, she and her musical partners learned a collection of Neapolitan songs and then performed them throughout Italy as a gesture of gratitude to the Italian fans who have embraced Nini over the years.
Nini and her artistic collaborators later decided to perform the songs in Hebrew, with Dor and Dan Almagor teaming up to to complete the translations. The disc's 14 songs feature beguiling melodies and beautiful harmonies. Nini's passionate voice soars on "Santa Lucia Luntana" and "Sia Maledetta L'Acqua." Her vocals are packed with feeling, and the listener is quickly swept up by the album's romantic ballads. It's amazing how well the Hebrew lyrics fit the Neapolitan music, with a prime example being the folk tune "Tammurriata Nera;" also enjoyable are "Nonna Nonna," "Serenatella" and "Era de Maggio." The Solis String Quartet complements Nini with its high-quality arrangements and compositions. The album has a clean sound, free of studio tricks and other diversions.
Napoli - Tel Aviv is a warmly recommended journey.