MEIR BANAI Shma Koli (NMC) Six years after his last studio album, Meir Banai returns with Shma Koli, a CD packed with traditional Jewish texts and prayers. This is the first time the singer, known for his pop-rock ballads, sings to texts written by someone other than himself. The result is convincing and touching. During the past few years, Banai has reconnected with his religious roots. He turned to time-honored texts for lyrics to the songs on this album. As only Banai can, he put together heartfelt musical arrangements to the words of rabbis, poets, and writers from different eras - among them rabbis Ibn Ezra, Shalom Shabazi and Shlomo Ibn Gvirol. Musically, the arrangements are based on traditional tunes but have been given a modern infusion. The single, "Lech Elay" (text by Rabbi Ibn Ezra), became a hit as soon as it was released. While among the religious populace such a thing wouldn't be unheard of, amongst the secular population it was an obvious sign that the public missed Banai's contribution to the music field and wanted him back. Over his three-decade career, Banai, who hails from the famous clan of actors and singers, was renowned for his deep and meaningful words. Singing with passion and a clear voice, he succeeds in making these words his own as well. Be it on the prayers "Ayelet Chen" or "Shalom Lecha Dodi," his soulfulness and love for the spiritual life come across honestly and not as some sort of gimmick. This is an album of love in the truest sense of the word. Musical producer Gil Smetana, with whom Banai has collaborated before, kept production to a minimum. There are no special effects on this CD. Rather, the spotlight is placed, as it should be, on Banai's warm and intimate vocals. It doesn't matter which of the 10 songs on this album Banai is singing, all of his performances are earnest and moving. KFIR EPSTEIN Kfir Epstein (Helicon) And while Banai is a veteran on the local music scene, 27-year-old Kfir Epstein is hoping to become one. The singer-songwriter recently released his eponymous debut CD. Epstein wrote and composed music to all 11 tracks on the album. His music includes energetic tunes ("Emuna"), classic rock songs ("Mangina Ktana") and piano-driven ballads ("Hapachad Ne'elam"). His texts cite social observations and personal experiences. He sings about sadness/loneliness, optimism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, being true to yourself and love. His songs "Yesh Lecha Koach" and "Emuna" have both achieved playlist status on radio airwaves. Actually, Epstein is not new to radio play. He has penned popular songs for artists including Harel Skaat and Gali Atari. Now, he decided to take his material and sing it himself. His voice is clear and appealing. The good-looking singer cites as his influences the likes of Shalom Hanoch, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Green Day, among others. To ensure that his album would succeed like those of his influences, Epstein turned to producer Tal Forer (who has worked with Rita and Shlomo Artzi) and backup musicians like Dudu Tassa who have already proven themselves to make a top-rated album. The Hebrew media claims he is the next "it" man in music. Could be.