A female affair

Jewish folk music sung by women is nothing new, and neither is Jewish folk music sung by religious women.

NAOMI Odeh HaShem (Noam Productions) Jewish folk music sung by women is nothing new, and neither is Jewish folk music sung by religious women. But for the haredi-friendly Noam Productions label to publish a women's folk album - this is clearly a new development. Naomi's Odeh HaShem, which features a warning that it's "For women and girls" only, is dedicated to the memory of the artist's father, Rabbi Abraham Oppenheimer, a hazzan whom she credits for having nurtured her in a home full of song. She also thanks many other family members for their support in the liner notes, including her ten (that's right) children. While Odeh HaShem is certainly a departure from the standard contemporary Hassidic pop fare heard on the Noam label, it is hardly a unique artistic statement. On the blunt opening track "Shir HaMa'alot," Naomi's imprecise lead vocals are relegated to the back of the mix, and the harmony parts are weak. Cheesy synthesizer sounds play the same line as the lead vocal, thankfully drowning it out even more. From there, Odeh HaShem improves significantly, but only by venturing into already-established Lilith Fair territory, especially in the cases of"Tefila Le'ani" and "Tefilat Ha'yalda." "Shma Yisrael"'s dark electronic setting establishes mood effectively, even if its soaring melody is an ordinary one. "Ra'nenu" could have been a rocker if only more edgy accompaniment parts had been added. "Ke'ayal"'s intimate vocal and guitar arrangement is not bad, mostly thanks to Naomi's own picking. With guitars and vocals by Naomi, keyboards by Elisheva Fertig and flutes by Tertza Shiloni, Odeh HaShem's mostly stripped-down sound is strictly a female affair, and a lukewarm one at that. SUSAN AND FRAN B'Hemlat Halevana (Sofa Records) Because of its associations with monthly cycles and legends regarding forced diminished brilliance, the moon is commonly used as a symbol of feminist Judaism. In the case of the latest release from baby boomer Canadian-Israeli Jewish folkies Susan Cogan and Fran Avni, the moon has inspired the album's title, artwork and opening track. The disc consists of pleasant and refined adult contemporary folk-rock, through and through. Not all the melodies are strong, and the arrangements are not the most creative, but the album is highly polished and easy on the ears. After opening with "Rak Hayareah," a happy tune with birdsong samples at the fadeout, we move on to the especially Enya-esque setting of "Lo B'Hail," a traditional song. "Minhat Shirim," which channels old-time socialist Zionist hymns, sports some refreshingly unpredictable rhythm changes. Later, along similar lines, "Derekh Yeshanah" serves as a cute - if goofy - march, and "Hevel HeHaim" showcases the duo's impressive vocal range. The closer, a revised pluralist rendition of the prayer book's blessing for peace, employs a "Lion Sleeps Tonight" mood and structure, ending the album on a festive note. Ben Jacobson can be reached at [email protected]