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SAM GLASER AND REBBESOUL
Niggun: Voice of the Soul
Around 300 years ago, a radical movement called Hassidism was founded on the idea that Judaism is not only for the intellectual elite. Even illiterate rural Jews, its leaders said, could attain spiritual heights in their own ways, like through a repetitious and transformative niggun.
"Niggun" literally means melody, but in Jewish music, the term has come to refer to the meditative, wordless chants of the Hassidim. The Hassidic movement has changed greatly since its early days, but niggun remains timeless.
Sam Glaser and RebbeSoul's newest album, Niggun: Voice of the Soul, has the ability to mesmerize thanks to those same wordless, mantra-like, catchy melodies. This album is not as psychedelic nor as rigorously produced as RebbeSoul's previous recording effort, but created by two of West Coast Judaism's most prominent contemporary recording artists, the disc (available through www.rebbesoul.com) does bring some relatively new approaches to its presention of the niggun.
The first half of Voice is dominated by reggae groove interpretations similar to those played by Moshav, whose members were brought in as backup vocalists for this project. Other flavors found here and there on Voice include the piano-conga of "David Melech" and the hokey accordion-dominated "Bar Yochai." Towards the end of the disc, things get a bit weightier, as a soaring, Satriani-like electric guitar takes over the melody parts for sections of "Al Tira." Sharone Kushnir's simple, unaccompanied piano takes over on "Daled Bavot," the piece that closes the album.
Storm Clouds Rising
New Roots Records
A systems analyst in the Boston area who moonlights as a musician, Craig Sonnenfeld cites his undergraduate studies at Hebrew University as a formative experience. "Anne Frank's Eyes," which appears on his latest album, Storm Clouds Rising, has enjoyed some airplay across the US and in Israel, and the song has a haunting melody similar to the one from Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee." In the song, Sonnenfeld sings, "though you wanted to let out a scream, it would have been unwise / how I wish I could have saved just a single tear from Anne Frank's eyes" - noble if somewhat simplistic and literal sentiments.
The rest of the album, which draws on folk Americana, has little in the way of Jewish-themed content - not that there's anything wrong with that - although "Ten Steps to Climb" explores God's role in the afterlife. "I'm hoping He'll just greet me and wash my sins away," chants Sonnenfeld.
"Sweet Liza Jane" is a pleasant love song, while "Devil on the Run" follows a straight blues structure effectively. "Catch Some Z's" is a silly ode to sleep, and "Very Last Time" sports some fancy picking even if it lacks a memorable melody.
What stands out most on Clouds is not its content, but the singer's Willie Nelson-like delivery and direct, acoustic-driven Rick Rubin-like recording approach.
Ben Jacobson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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