ALMA ZOHAR Dabri (Speak Up) (Eighth Note) Overall, 2008 was an okay year for local Hebrew music. A whole slew of CDs was released by veterans, with newcomers also making a splash. The new release Dabri, by Jerusalemite Alma Zohar, is a fantastic way to wrap up 2008 and kick off 2009. The indie-folk musician has surprised everyone with her catchy music. Radio listeners will recognize Zohar's hits "Ego Trip," "Shir Ahava Indiani" (Indian Love Song) and "Da" (Know). Zohar's music is fresh. She flows between world beats, rock, pop, soul, reggae, jazz and country elements in her music. And in addition to good musical compositions, the lyrics are top quality, too. She employs high level Hebrew in her texts, and she even throws in words from the Bible. Above all, Zohar's listeners will be captivated by her voice, which is at once smooth and husky. Regardless of whether she's singing a peppy folk-pop song or a ballad, Zohar's voice enthralls. Overall, Zohar - who is the step-daughter of musician Yaakov Rotblit - presents an original and unique debut album. She is already being labeled as the "next best thing" to hit the local music scene. ASAF AMDURSKY Harei At (AA Music) Asaf Amdursky's latest double CD, Harei At, was also one of the better albums of 2008. Amdursky lays out his signature electro-pop over 13 tracks. He continues to break ground in the electronica field and uses original sounds in his works. On the song "Sinai," for example, he humorously throws in a police siren when singing about the neighbors calling police. He also offers up imaginative instrumental pieces, both within songs and between tracks. Despite recently divorcing, lyrically his songs can all be seen as love songs. Amdursky seems in love with love. His voice is soft and tender and he is able to make even sad songs into heartwarming ones. The second CD in the album is a bonus that includes alternate renditions to songs on the album, as well as new songs. The most popular track off the album so far is "Rakevet Letzafon" (Train to the North). But the whole album is first-rate and deserves a listen. YOAV ITSHAK Kama Tov Shebat (So Good You Came) (Play Records) Yoav Itshak returns with another album of oriental love songs. The album opens with the title track, a soft tune meant to woo listeners. The second song, "At Kol Hayai" (You're my whole life), is much peppier. The third song is a quiet ballad, the fourth a loud Mizrahi-pop track. And the rest of the album continues this back-and-forth quiet-loud song switch. Itshak also offers a Hebrew rendition of Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting." The first listen sounds very odd, but after a couple of spins, Itshak proves that this ultimate love song can indeed work in Hebrew. Throughout the album, Itshak's voice is warm and strong. Musically speaking, the tunes are a blend of oriental and Mediterranean elements. Lyrically, the songs are not particularly interesting. Itshak did not pen his own words, but relied on others for simple and clichéd themes. But as Itshak has proven on previous albums, the lyrics are secondary to the music. And as a musician, he knows that his fans will help make these new tracks hits regardless. Fans of oriental music will find these songs heartwarming. And that's exactly what Itshak hopes to achieve.

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