LARRY KAROL A New Beginning (self-release) A rabbi at a Reform synagogue in Topeka, Kansas, for over 20 years, Larry Karol recently released this collection of original laid-back adult rock songs. Karol sings like the American Reform-movement rabbi he is: his sound lies somewhere between classical vocal production and relaxed everyman folk rock tunes. Over the past few years, his parents passed away, his son graduated from high school, and Karol himself celebrated a 50th birthday, so the life cycle - with all of its losses and exaltations - is clearly on the songmeister's mind. On "Wedding Blessing," Karol rewrites the traditional "Sheva Brakhot" sequence to with his own poetry, using nothing but a piano as accompaniment. "Gomeil," a duet with Angela Gold, sports some pleasant harmonies that evoke early Sixties Bob Dylan-Joan Baez arrangements. The hymnal "Circle Once More" and the atmospheric "V'hanchileinu" are each marked by spacious, sweeping arrangements with almost no percussion, an effective way of presenting their emotional content. On "Shivti," a busy bassline, a punchy beat and faint power chords lean towards heavier rock, but Karol's Gospel-like melody and Scott Leader's grit-free mixing keep the edge at bay. BATYA DIAMOND Love Along the Way (self-release) Batya Diamond is the founder and principal spiritual leader of the Connecticut new-age congregation Nefesh Yehudi, where she oversees prayers, study circles, healing rituals and meditation sessions. Her day job for the past 10 years has been as an on-air personality at the local pop radio station, and when the two roles join into one, we're presented with Love Along the Way, a collection of original new-agey Jewish folk songs. As it opens, the collection sounds more than a little like Neshama Carlebach albums, which is no surprise given that the disc was produced by Carlebach musical director David Morgan. "Ali Ve'er" opens the disc with flamenco-style acoustic guitar and rhythm styles, while "Shema" uses a frivolous refrain and loose rhyme structure to explore the most famous of Jewish meditations. "Where is God" and "Where I Belong" are likewise lyrically simplistic, but on "Emunah," Diamond uses guitar harmonics as an unlikely rhythm element, which goes well with the acoustic bassline underneath."Gam Ki Eylech" uses Eastern hand percussion and reverbed guitar as a springboard for a chant-like reaffirmation of a well-known verse from Psalm 23, and the result is hypnotic. Tefillah, Diamond's follow-up album, is due out this fall, and it will be interesting to hear where she goes from here. Ben Jacobson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.