Hints of venom and a bit of pop [p. 24]

SIMPLY TSFAT Never Give Up Sameach Music/Pirsumei Nisa Simply Tsfat, the great trio of contemporary minstrels from the Galilee, has finally returned, offering up its first studio album in over three years. Never Give Up's opening title track is a cute adult pop song based on creative translations of Rebbe Nahman's command to stay happy: "There is always hope … a dance will help you cope," goes the rhyming Simply Tsfat version. "Oyfn Pripetshik," Mark Warshavsky's immortal Yiddish tribute to Torah learning among youth, is given a majestic, slowly building arrangement here, anchored by child vocalist Tzvi Hirsch Resnick and peaking with a snare-heavy march beat. The previous release by this Bratslav Hassidic band, Souls in Harmony, was a raw, rocking live wedding set, probably the greatest wedding album ever released in this genre. Never Give Up brings us back to the more subdued territory of the band's previous efforts. Which is not to imply that the disc lacks venom: "Mezbuz Niggun," "Satmar Niggun," "B'Zchus Yosef HaTzaddik" and "Rav Klein's Niggun" are all furious jams in their own right. And the complex closing track, "A Song for My Father," sports some fancy Latin rhythms and acoustic guitar scale picking to make a new style of niggun. Some of Never Give Up's tracks come off as filler, especially those with imprecise lead vocal performances ("Don't Be Sad") or cutesy melodies ("Kayl Adon from Uman"). But overall, the album provides a fun mix of classical niggun and organic, original adult rock worthy of the Simply Tsfat name. YOSSI & YERACHMIEL A Time and Place Sameach Music Yossi Rotband and Yerachmiel Ziegler recently recorded this collection of folky pop songs in Jerusalem and at three separate studios in New York. Ziegler's early November appearance at Jerusalem's Pargod Hall provided an intimate showcase of the singer's talents, with Ziegler opening for the grunge-jam band Hamakor. Armed with only a microphone, an acoustic guitar and an impromptu darbuka player - a format that suited his talents well - Ziegler played a bright set comprised of his own songs and several Shlomo Carlebach covers. This disc, by contrast, is something of a disappointment, especially when compared to Ziegler's creative earlier album, Ahava V'achva. Most of the songs are smooth and pleasant, but they lack an artistic edge - we're dealing with a pop record at heart. On the other hand, A Time and Place is well-produced and likely to please fans of these types of songs. The album opens and closes with "Tiferet," an Eli Gerstner-like tune with boy band stylings. A highly produced studio version appears first and is followed at album's end by a superior live, acoustic one. "Gam Ki Elech" presents Psalm 23 to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence." But "Yevarechechah" is the disc's most creative track, thanks to its upbeat rhythm and slide guitar solos from Soulfarm's C Lanzbom. Ben Jacobson can be reached at billboard@jpost.com