hadass disk 88 224.
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Underneath Your Smile
Born Heidi Hsiao Chien Lee to a traditional Chinese family based in Seattle, Hadassah has been living in Jerusalem for a few years now, making a name for herself in the growing female audience-only Orthodox Jewish performance scene. Her trademark concerts are built around song cycles that lead primarily seminary-enrolled listeners through the various phases of Hadassah's personal spiritual journey. Hadassah's original, poetic song lyrics - which are enriched by flight imagery and focus on themes of friendship, inspiration, acceptance and maintaining a personal relationship with God - take the center stage on her first full-length LP, Underneath Your Smile.
On "Prayer at the Bus Stop" and "Waiting Room," Hadassah's sound is grounded in Tori Amos-like, piano-based arrangements topped with the kind of groany, soaring vocals that marked her earlier work. However, several tracks reveal a clear sonic evolution. The opening "Love Your Neighbor" is a free-meter a cappella personal pledge that dedicates the disc to holy servitude by paraphrasing a traditional pre-prayer meditation. Saxophone flourishes embellish the arrangements on several tracks - most notably "How to Fly" and "Brave Girl" - thanks to the contributions of Alexey Nikolaev. Hagit Caspi's flute work on "Thank You Song" adds a lyrical feel.
The women's religious music scene has been flowering around its growing numbers of leaders. Hadassah's sound seems to be developing in a similar arc.
Flashes in the Darkness
Probably not related to Tribe Called Quest muse Bonita Applebaum, Talia is a Breslov Hassidic matriarch whose first album, Flashes in the Darkness, was recorded in a women-only studio. Available for purchase at cdbaby.com/talia, the album's songs concern themselves with Applebaum's lifestyle and her religious devotion.
Urging us to "Communicate / At the cheapest rate / With the One above," "Turbulent Times" sports some upbeat and pleasant if imprecise vocals. A Hassidic version of "Dirty Pot Blues," with show tune-inspired sass, is about the tribulations of doing the dishes. Yet despite the humdrum difficulties of maintaining a household, Applebaum reminds herself on "Doing My Best" that "To get it together / Is for what I strive."
The disc closes with a pair of deeper cuts that take things down a different path. "The Task" and "Sing a New Song" have a driven, almost tribal feel, with the latter's repeated chanting spiraling off into secondary melodies that flow into each other.
Sometimes heady, sometimes hokey, Flashes in the Darkness is partially a complex expression of devotion to the Divine and partially a child-friendly religious family support exercise.
Ben Jacobson can be reached at email@example.com.