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The Power to Be
Thanks to David Schwimmer's character from Friends, the name Ross conjures an image of the endearing, almost funky, non-threatening and slightly nerdy Jew in contemporary Western culture. Two of today's Jewish pop up-and-comers bearing this moniker have recently released their debut CDs, with each more or less toying with the concept of the Ross persona.
Westchester County, NY has in recent years yielded Jewish music luminaries like Eden Mi Qedem and Matisyahu, and now David Ross has released The Power to Be, a boy band-style powerhouse, thanks to a plethora of vocoder effects, big drama, thumping beats and tight harmonies. But the disc has much more to it, thanks to the guitar licks of Soulfarm's C Lanzbom and monster Monsey drummer Shmuel Ziegler. And the bubblegum leanings, which come off sounding contrived on the recordings of dos-pop poseurs like the Chevra and the Hamsa Boys (with whom Ross once toured), sound like the real Tiger Beat deal.
Bringing it all together are Ross's vocals, which range from understated and sexy (as in the case of "Hakadosh Baruch Hu") to full-on Justin Timberlake falsetto power rhythm and blues mode (as heard on The Light and on the clapping sing-along of the title track). Ross, who honed his chops in SUNY Binghamton's Kaskeset a capella group, even goes so far as to yelp out a Michael Jackson-like "hooo!" on more than one occasion, heightening the soaring drama of his arrangements.
Commissioned by Chabad of Detroit, "The Flame" is a larger-than-life, feel-good ballad that includes a children's choir offering the saccharine couplet, "We are the children, and we are not afraid / We'll show the whole world that we can guide the way." And a cover of Israeli ethnic band Sheva's youth group-embraced "Salaam," receives a theatrical pop treatment here thanks to several layers of acoustic strumming, Ziegler's thick rhythm and a gospel choir coda.
ROSS M. LEVY
Where the Future Lies
An alumnus and former leader of Reform youth group NFTY's New Jersey region, Ross M. Levy went on to study Judaism at the University of Hartford and to tour the US with a secular alternative band called Palindrome. Now serving as the Director of Student Life at the high school of Philadelphia's trans-denominational Gratz College, Levy recently released Where the Future Lies, which he spent some two years creating.
Descended from the tribe that provided musical accompaniment to services at the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, Levy here intersperses key phrases from the liturgy with his own interpretive verses. Largely built around selections from the Sabbath prayerbook, Future explores a microcosm of Jewish themes through the sonic prism of contemporary folk-pop - although he does deviate from the template on the Hammond-heavy "Light of God," the swirly synth-laden "The Sign" and "Mirror," which sports a punchy bass line, growled vocal delivery and an island-y steel drum backing part. But the meat of Where the Future Lies is grounded in selections like Levy's own "Shma" and the opening empowerment-themed "Im Ein Ani Li / Stand Tall."
Ben Jacobson can be reached at email@example.com.