glassman disk 88 224.
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CANTOR RITA GLASSMAN
Journey to Shabbat
Based in the Bay Area since the mid-'80s, Rita Glassman currently serves as the Cantor for Congregation Sherith Israel, one of San Francisco's most prominent Reform synagogues.
Journey to Shabbat, an interpretive song cycle based on the traditional Friday night prayer service, is her fifth CD, but it's her first exclusively Jewish-themed one.
The disc was recorded under the synagogue's 120-foot-tall dome, which lends the finished product a sense of rich, live, splashy acoustics. Sherith Israel's historic site, built in 1904, also offers its presence visually, with its Portuguese design, Honduran mahogany and stained glass all appearing in the CD packaging artwork.
Glassman's voice is always pleasant, but it is in top form when steeped in more breathy intimacy and less bombastic, as showcased on the shorter, more meditative tracks like "Zamru... B'chinor" and "Barchu," based on traditional Yemenite chants. The disc opens with Schmuel Brazid's oft-sung "Shalom Aleichem" melody, presented tastefully with just two vocalists, darbuka, acoustic guitar and some flute flourishes.
Journey sports two compositions by St. Louis-based Jewish rock educator Rick Recht, whose own "Shabbat Alive" service has become a national favorite. Two more songs are covers of tunes by LA Jewish songman Craig Taubman, both of them soothing rounds. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's "V'Shamru" receives some nice mandolin picking as well.
The American Reform movement's female cantors are sometimes written off by skeptics as wannabes, but Journey to Shabbat is saturated with enough beauty - in its arrangements, selections and execution - to win over any open-minded listener.
Caroline Cohen, a Londoner with a once-promising West End career, dropped it all to embrace the haredi lifestyle she was exposed to at Jerusalem's Neve Yerushalayim seminary. Since then, Cohen has developed a repertoire of pizzazz-laden, original show tune-like songs. She has toured her one-woman show, "From Showbiz to Shabbos," extensively, and now she has released We Believe, a studio recording.
The opening title track, a declaration of faith, is a wailing showcase of Disney-esque gospel pop. On "Son of Israel," an ode to the bravery and sacrifices of Israeli soldiers, Cohen paints a picture of hardened heroism. In "The Kotel," Cohen asks, "Did you ever feel its warm embrace?"
"Eishes Chayil," a tribute to King Solomon's biblical list of virtues displayed by a woman of valor, Cohen expresses awe over the accomplishments of her role models: "I don't know how she does it / I just cannot relate," she wails. In a more personal song, "When Zaide Prayed," the singer runs through a checklist of her late grandfather's ailments ("He had trouble getting about / With pain in his joints and he had the gout," etc.) over a honky-tonk beat - all leading up to the chorus' descriptions of the great zest the old man would muster for the sake of prayer.
Say what you will about her schlocky musical style or how overly literal her religious themes can be, but Cohen's refined voice has power. Cohen's not just another Orthodox housewife who decided to finally record the album she always thought she had in her. Listening to We Believe conjures images of marquees and chorus lines.
Ben Jacobson can be reached at email@example.com.