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Known for high levels of ideological motivation, Americans have been serving in the IDF since before it was the IDF. Recently, the English-speaking Zionist community was saddened by the death of Sgt. Michael Levin, a Philadelphia native killed in combat in Lebanon. With all eyes on the north nowadays, many are looking to do everything they can to help the shaken residents of the region - and the soldiers sent out to protect them.
Elie Deutsch, an arrival from the US who served in the North with an artillery unit, hopes to pursue a career as a Jewish rocker upon returning to civilian life. In the meantime, he is dedicating his music to Israelis affected by the conflict with Hizbullah. With the help of Beit Shemesh community leaders, www.americanchayal.org was recently established as a distribution pipe for the American Chayal Internet album, with proceeds going to charities associated with the war. The project has been online since late July and thousands of dollars have already been raised.
The album premieres several of Deutsch's songs, which come interspersed with greetings from the artist recorded over the phone from his base. The spoken word clips add to the download package and add authenticity to the Chayal concept, but they don't necessarily add to the album. Deutsch's music is smooth pop-rock with Jewish lyrics. His songs evoke some of Brian Wilson's earlier work, a quality heightened by the use of rich "ooh-aah" vocal backup arrangements. Quiet acoustic picking and some slow violin riffs lend "Achat Shoalti" an intimate feeling, while "Baruch Hagever" uses Eighties-style drumming and saxophone parts to add punch, doubtlessly the touches of the project's musical consultant, Schlock Rock's Lenny Solomon.
Born in Taiwan as Heidi Hsiao Chien Lee and raised in Seattle by Chinese parents, Hadassah Lee first became interested in Judaism as a pre-teen, eventually converting as a young adult after three years of Torah study in the US and Israel. She recently made aliya and lives in Jerusalem, where she is working on a full-length album for a fall release. An active member of a budding community of religious female musicians who only perform for women - many of whom, like Lee, have studied at Bat Ayin - she sells her formative Bamidbar EP at concerts.
On the opening "Trouble I Been to You," Lee channels her chief influence, Tori Amos. A lush piano arrangement is matched by synth atmospherics, trip-hop beats and sultry Amos-like vocals. The rest of the collection is equally strong, but it's marked by complex, less accessible song structures and stark arrangements for voice and keys only.
On the existential "Little Mei Mei," Lee adopts a childlike persona, pleading with her parents to "carry me home" after she has "traveled the seas." "You're Still My Hero," sums up Lee's own spiritual yearnings in a manner that's easy to identify with. "Sometimes you lose it, sometimes you know you're on your way," she chants.
Ben Jacobson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.