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Best of the Celebrate Series
(Craig 'N Co)
West Coast-based Jewish laid-back folk-rocker Craig Taubman has built a mini Jewish music empire in recent years with Craig 'N Co, his own label/distribution outfit. Recording and/or distributing the works of Taubman as well as many others, the organization's flagship compilation series brand names, Celebrate and Lounge, have enjoyed acclaim, the latter having been nominated for a 2006 Oyhoo Jewish Music Award in the Best New Approach category. Celebrate, which compiles tunes from the gamut of Jewish musicians into themed sets, was recently harvested into Best of the Celebrate Series, a 33-track double-disc retrospective.
Shabbat is represented by a Dixie/ragtime "L'cha Dodi" treatment by Taubman himself, followed by meditative soprano Shirona's elegant, piano-driven "Ki Eleicha." New York ethnic ensemble Pharaoh's Daughter hints at some Motown flavor with "Hamavdil." Passover receives G. Edry's "Midbar," which somehow feels like a Spanish lullaby and opera at once, followed by a strange, very David Broza version of "Eliyahu Hanavi." And Yom Hadash introduces Hanukkah with a poppy "Al Hanisim."
For the Celebrate Kids selections, we're treated to the "Ob-La-Di"-style fun of Jon Nelson's "Shalom" and the straight-up country of Mah Tovu's "Round and Round." Klezmer is celebrated with two cacophonous wall-of-sound jams courtesy of Boston's Klezmer Conservatory Band and the Klezmer Brass Allstars. Ultimately, Best of the Celebrate Series doesn't come off as canonizing a cohesive body of work. Its biggest success, ironically, comes from having collected cross-sections of the Diaspora's array of flavors.
Hooked on the Truth
(Hebrew Homie Records)
Aviad Cohen used to be an Upper West Side Modern Orthodox scenester and a novelty rapper called 50 Shekel until he decided one day to buy and watch The Passion of the Christ instead of eating Shabbat lunch. His life was changed forever, and now Cohen maintains a video blog where he explains that Valentine's Day and Harry Potter only distance individuals from Jesus. Now he's released his born-again debut CD, complete with a keyboard-as-crucifix album cover pose.
Traditional Jewish dogma dictates that even those who convert out of Judaism remain Jewish, and Truth (as the disc is called, anyway) addresses distinctively Jewish themes - flipped on their heads as they may be. Cohen believes that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, a belief that was popular among a community of Jews at the time of the Second Temple's destruction - until that community spun off and became the Church about 250 years later. Cohen expresses his new faith with self-produced and programmed arrangements reminiscent of the Night at the Roxbury soundtrack: early Nineties synth-driven techno-pop taken to the extreme.
Jesus-embracing Jews are known for their subtle, under-handed tactics for recruiting more Jews, but this disc is more of a badgering coming-out party than a subversive campaign. Cohen even gets overtly preachy on three tracks, where organ-backed spoken-word monologues espouse the search for Salvation. And from the opening dance-pop "Delight in Your Shabbat" (a day that's "a time to reflect and give props" to God) to the thump of "Reach Out to You" (which explains that "He's the one who saved me / for real / yes he'll save you too / that's right") to the centerpiece "J-E-S-U-S" (which of course rhymes with "the king who's best"), Cohen is on fire.
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