Jewish Music: Bubble gum and cheese [pg. 24]

LEV TAHOR Lev Tahor 4 (Sameach Music/GalPaz) Lev Tahor is made up of New Yorkers Ari Cukier, Eli Schwebel and Gadi Fuchs. The band members co-produce their recordings, while Fuchs writes all of the songs, most of which are upbeat bubble gum pop tunes and cheesy ballads with Jewish-themed lyrics - all self-indulgently milked to the max. The group's fourth album is polished, but it could use some balance and sobriety. "Haverim" uses a lame "budda-bup" refrain to soar like Eighties-era Chicago - a misguided sonic inspiration for a contemporary group. Opening with an echo-drenched, sparse computerized beat, "Moshe" builds in intensity as it goes, while "Git Shabbos" even features a dramatic "break it down" section. The tracks with the most intricate arrangements - "Shirat Halev" and "Mi Ben Siyah," for example - use schmaltzy string parts as the background to uninspired solos. The Lev Tahor franchise is a successful one in the religious pop world, which only serves to highlight how desperately in need of originality and true inspiration the genre has become. AZ'AMRAH Peaceful Moon (Self-release) Donny Trenk is poised to be the next Eli Gerstner, the reigning king of Hassidic pop and the mastermind behind projects like the Chevra, the Yeshiva Boys Choir and Tek-Noy. The young Trenk has assembled a wall of sound of his own for his Az'amrah project and its first album, Peaceful Moon. Trenk certainly had a lot of help with the arrangements, performances and recording process, but he did write all of the melodies, sing all the lead vocals on the disc and oversee the other aspects of putting the project together. The disc opens with "Shma Koleinu" and "L'cha Dodi," two happy, folky pop tunes with plenty of vocal harmonies and a feeling that's somehow simultaneously upbeat and laid-back. Later, "Shir Hama'aloth" uses click-based percussion and an easygoing melody as a springboard for a breezy "la-la" chant and a vocoder-saturated vocal part that tries to be funky. The album's second half is dominated by a wedding-themed sequence of four songs, kicking off with the repetitious Motown-meets-Beach Boys "Ode Yishama" and the religious-pop, boy band-inspired "Asher Bara." Many of the sessions for Moon took place at Long Island's Cove City Sound studios, the home of many Billy Joel studio projects. Here, an 11-piece orchestra laid down its parts for two tracks, "Peaceful Moon" (the album's only English-language track) and "Shalom Aleichem." Other sessions took place in Jerusalem, Queens and Brooklyn. Ben Jacobson can be reached at