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For Heaven's Sake
On Ruby Harris' last release, Almost Home, the klez-rock violinist explored Chicago blues through the prism of Jewish lamentation. His new disc, For Heaven's Sake, combines niggun melodies with classic rock and references to the old American West. The disc's influences are diverse, but Harris composed all the songs in one place: during a visit to Jerusalem. He wrote all the arrangements here and performed all the parts (with the exception of some vocals) in a Chicagoarea studio, in sessions he produced himself.
The opening "Oyverture" ushers the listener into the disc with some furious fiddling that evokes both "Devil Went Down to Georgia" and the fast jam from "Freebird." "Bes Yaakov" sounds like upbeat early Moody Blues, while Ringo Starr-like clunk-drumming dominates "Dorshe Ha-Shem," a niggun Harris plays straight. Elsewhere, "Asher Bara" and "Shivtu" are given the hoedown treatment (the former complete with "aah-haw" background yelping), while "Chasdecha" uses a David Axelrodstyle arrangement of falling bells and strings.
But the dominant flavor on the disc is niggun via Spaghetti Western, an approach taken by Israel-based artists like Dov Shurin and Yitzhak Fooks. If Ennio Morricone had spent the Sixties and Seventies with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach instead of composing scores for Clint Eastwood movies, he might have written songs like this album's grandiose "Harachaman," "Seu She'arim" and "Ki Leolam Chasdo."
A Hassidic pop crooner from the same school as Yisroel Lamm and Mordechai Ben David, Efraim Mendelson has been releasing cookie-cutter recordings for several years now. His 1997 Passover-themed Rak Al Avinu disc was an up-tempo romp that sold relatively well among the neo-shtetl set.
Mendelson's newest release, Hitragshut (Inspiration), is a double-album comprised of eight dirge-like medleys. Mendelson here sounds like a haredi lounge crooner, leading listeners through a sequence of some 39 slow songs penned by some of the scene's most famous composers, including Moshe Laufer, Abie Rotenberg ("V'leyerushalayim"), Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach ("Im Eshkakekh") and the like.
Recorded in Bnei Brak, Hitragshut's backing arrangements are straightforward and not especially creative. A men's choir and a horn section are used for added embellishment at moments, while an accordion supports the sluggish mood on several tracks, most notably on "Mah Tovu" (How Good) and "Shimu" (Hear). In Disc Two's mid-section, slow introductory solos lead the listener between similar melodies, including in the violin-led opening to "Tefillah La'ani" (Prayer for the Poor) and during some electric guitar-saxophone interplay on "Toratkha."
Here and there, Mendelson's lead vocals are supplemented by the pre-pubescent voice of the young Yonatan Sheinfeld, whose name appears on the cover alongside Mendelson's. Another young talent heard here is Amit Listvand, whose reverberating, over-the-top Hazzanut-style solo on "Ke'ayal" ("Like a Deer") lends some needed flair.