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Peddler in Babylon
New Yorker Bobby Sichran first got involved with music on a professional level in the early Nineties, when he collaborated with proto-militant rappers Public Enemy and reggae's Tony Rebel before releasing his solo debut on Columbia. He parted ways with the mega-label in 1996 and has been touring and releasing albums on lesser-known independent imprints like Messenger and SoupFly ever since.
Babylon, Sichran's latest, is a heady meditation on spiritual exile that doesn't badger the listener with yiddishkeit, but clearly bears a Jewish soul - especially on the God-wrestling "Who You Be," the afterlife tribunal "I Swore" and the scorched bush imagery of "Calling all Cars."
Sichran, who doubles as producer here, has put together some creative arrangements, including three bravely sparse, acoustic reggae numbers, two Southwestern explorations, and the blues-via-John Lennon songs "Code of the Road" and "Loving Pauper," which employ a rapidly looped synthesizer scale as a rhythm element. The sound is given still more meat by Dougie Browne, whose drumming delves into unconventional syncopations on several songs (Sichran himself plays most of the other parts).
Sichran's vocals are the weakest link here, though, raising the age-old question of whether or not such a creative songwriter and arranger ought to feel the need to present his own work. Babylon is a tour de force on many levels, but sometimes a solo artist can achieve more by simply adding to the gestalt of an ensemble.
AHIYA RUBIN AND HIS BAND
Live in Concert
Currently working as a hazzan as well as an inspector with the Ministry of Education, Ahiya Rubin is an alumnus of the globe-trotting boys' Gitit Choir.
Despite its title, his new release is hardly a concert album, as its selections (more than half of which are Rubin originals) seem to have been culled from several wedding gigs and studio sessions.
The nuptial theme does run strong here, but the disc is not exactly a wedding concept album either.
As hinted on the cover, this is haredi crooner territory, but put together in an uncharacteristically tasteful and relatively schmaltz-less manner.
Sure, all of the beats are straight one-two's, the horn section (especially the saxophone parts) is prominent and the vocals are milked to the max, but Rubin's pipes are superior to those of his peers, and his band actually does have chops - especially Dvir Spiegel's lead guitar.
Appearing early on in the set is a "Simha Medley," an up-tempo collection of tunes meant to welcome brides and grooms to their celebratory feast.
With its prominent harmonica, mandolin and accordion interplay, the near-instrumental "Hungarian Dance" conveys an old-time European feel, a flavor that returns with the frantic drumming of "K'shem She'ani."
Three tracks explore crooner-topped thump-trance, and three others are punched to oblivion by an over-eager horn section.
Towards the disc's conclusion, we're presented with a version of "Al Tira" that starts off with Negro spiritual-like tight vocal harmonies, but unfortunately switches over to a straight dos-pop treatment with parts for children's choir.
Emblematic of the entire album, the track demonstrates how Rubin almost breaks out of the box, proving that he doesn't have to let us down, though ultimately he does.