VARIOUS ARTISTS HASC Presents: A Time for Music 18 (Sameach Music) New York's Hebrew Academy for Special Children (HASC) has been in operation since 1964, and the organization's annual A Time for Music benefit concert has in recent years become a high profile event in the world of Hassidic pop. This past year's show at Carnegie Hall drew an enormous crowd, while the previous all-star gala was recently released as a double album and DVD. The theatrical opening, "Overature," boasts that "there's magic in the air." The Miami Boys Choir is as tight as usual on the next song, complete with Chipmunks-style soloists. An act called The Rabbi's Sons occupies most of the rest of the first disc with slower Hassidic-American balladry. Disc Two kicks off with Lipa Schmeltzer's Yiddish version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," while Matisyahu contributes a set that isn't especially notable except for its stylistic contrast with the rest of the proceedings. Yaakov Shwekey's overthe-top religious posturing rounds out the rest of the second half, while Srully Williger's tribute to the "best" of the past 18 years' performers has him channeling Mordechai Ben David, The Chevra, Dveykus and the like. Nothing to boast about on an artistic level, this release serves mainly as a testament to the power of New York's religious pop scene - and also to raise funds for a worthy cause. DAN NICHOLS AND E18GHTEEN My Heart is in the East (self-release) Borrowing some lyrics from classical Jewish texts and melding them with his own words and melodies, Dan Nichols' E18ghteen musical project is one of the most popular in Reform Judaism. The movement has used Nichols' material as a starting point for educational curricula, which makes sense given its contemporary, polished sound and remarkable accessibility. My Heart is in the East is E18ghteen's most recent release, and Nichols' fifth. Located at the meeting point between slick adult rock and indie singer/songwriter sounds, My Heart is in the East draws from a variety of influences. The disc opens with a three-track sequence of pure powerpop. On the title track, Tennessee-based Nichols uses a Yehuda Halevi love poem for Israel to profess his own Zionism - an odd inspiration given that, according to legend, the medieval Spanish poet endured tremendous physical hardship in order to move to the Holy Land before being killed upon arrival, while Nichols needed only to fill out a Nefesh B'Nefesh application in order to reunite with his heart. Later on the album, "It Was You" explores slower, more emotional territory, while "Or Zarua" uses sweeping harmonies and a waltz meter as the basis for a list of prayers. Heart is an impressive accomplishment for a polished outfit, even if it isn't the meatiest.