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New York-based Yerachmiel Ziegler plays emotional, organic Jewish-themed songs that stay free of cheesy or religious posturing. The young artist's first disc, Ahava V'achva ("Love and Brotherhood"), a collection of original songs focusing on love and marriage, is a strong debut, thanks mostly to the singer's sincerity and directness.
Just because Yerachmiel doesn't go out of his way to seem sensitive doesn't mean that Ahava V'achva doesn't have its cheesy moments. "Welcome the Bride," with its string arrangement and literal description of a Jewish wedding ceremony, is one clear example. But for the most part, the album is notable for its infectious, laid-back vibe, some fun and unlikely key changes, pleasant harmonies and vocals that just feel real. Soulfarm lead guitarist C. Lanzbom was heavily involved in the project, which is why its production is reminiscent of some of that band's work.
Yerachmiel's staccato strumming on "Im Eshkochech" features touches of reggae, while the closing "Od Yishoma" isn't quite a jazz song despite its jazzy chord progression. "Siman Tov" and the title track benefit from some nice bluegrass-style banjo picking by Lanzbom, and "Kol Dodi" uses changes in key to carry its simple melody in a manner shared by Johnny Cash's immortal "I Walk the Line."
Ahava V'achva might at times seem like a wedding album, but despite its many wedding-themed tunes, the collection is more of a love suite than a rocking dance set. It's is a worthwhile release, enhanced further by the artwork of Israeli-Floridian Chaim Parchi inside the disc booklet.
Musician Rebecca Schwartz composes her music with Jewish liturgy in mind; her gigs at synagogues across her native Pennsylvania and beyond mix the singer's original compositions with more traditional prayers in an innovative twist on religious services.
The 18 songs presented on Ahava Rabah create a relaxing atsmosphere. "Shabbat Niggun" and "Mipi Keil" pair new melodies with texts usually associated with other tunes, and it's refreshing to hear the new versions. "Hal'luyah" uses a regal Mexican horn arrangement to evoke the proper mood for the call to praise the Lord, while the performer's original version of "Oseh Shalom" is soothing and sing-along-friendly.
Later on the disc, Rick Gazda's klezmer-style clarinet plays nicely off Rebecca's folksy acoustic guitar strumming. The collection features several pieces inspired by the end of Shabbat, including an almost complete havdala service and a new treatment for "Eliyahu Hanavi."
Ben Jacobson can be reached at email@example.com.