Jewish Discs: Ladies only in the studio

The women's religious music scene has been flowering around its growing numbers of leaders.

hadass disk 88 224 (photo credit: )
hadass disk 88 224
(photo credit: )
HADASSAH Underneath Your Smile (Self-release) Born Heidi Hsiao Chien Lee to a traditional Chinese family based in Seattle, Hadassah has been living in Jerusalem for a few years now, making a name for herself in the growing female audience-only Orthodox Jewish performance scene. Her trademark concerts are built around song cycles that lead primarily seminary-enrolled listeners through the various phases of Hadassah's personal spiritual journey. Hadassah's original, poetic song lyrics - which are enriched by flight imagery and focus on themes of friendship, inspiration, acceptance and maintaining a personal relationship with God - take the center stage on her first full-length LP, Underneath Your Smile. On "Prayer at the Bus Stop" and "Waiting Room," Hadassah's sound is grounded in Tori Amos-like, piano-based arrangements topped with the kind of groany, soaring vocals that marked her earlier work. However, several tracks reveal a clear sonic evolution. The opening "Love Your Neighbor" is a free-meter a cappella personal pledge that dedicates the disc to holy servitude by paraphrasing a traditional pre-prayer meditation. Saxophone flourishes embellish the arrangements on several tracks - most notably "How to Fly" and "Brave Girl" - thanks to the contributions of Alexey Nikolaev. Hagit Caspi's flute work on "Thank You Song" adds a lyrical feel. The women's religious music scene has been flowering around its growing numbers of leaders. Hadassah's sound seems to be developing in a similar arc. TALIA APPLEBAUM Flashes in the Darkness (Self-release) Probably not related to Tribe Called Quest muse Bonita Applebaum, Talia is a Breslov Hassidic matriarch whose first album, Flashes in the Darkness, was recorded in a women-only studio. Available for purchase at, the album's songs concern themselves with Applebaum's lifestyle and her religious devotion. Urging us to "Communicate / At the cheapest rate / With the One above," "Turbulent Times" sports some upbeat and pleasant if imprecise vocals. A Hassidic version of "Dirty Pot Blues," with show tune-inspired sass, is about the tribulations of doing the dishes. Yet despite the humdrum difficulties of maintaining a household, Applebaum reminds herself on "Doing My Best" that "To get it together / Is for what I strive." The disc closes with a pair of deeper cuts that take things down a different path. "The Task" and "Sing a New Song" have a driven, almost tribal feel, with the latter's repeated chanting spiraling off into secondary melodies that flow into each other. Sometimes heady, sometimes hokey, Flashes in the Darkness is partially a complex expression of devotion to the Divine and partially a child-friendly religious family support exercise. Ben Jacobson can be reached at