Jewish Music: Reform phenomenon and real-deal Breslover

Judean Hills Breslov shepherd-bard has released his sophomore effort, which displays more maturity than its predecessor.

debbie friedman disc 88 (photo credit: )
debbie friedman disc 88
(photo credit: )
DEBBIE FRIEDMAN One People (JMG) Debbie Friedman is a phenomenon. The spiritual folk singer and songwriter has been featured on America's National Public Radio and performed three times at Carnegie Hall. She has sold over 250,000 copies of 19 albums. Her current winter tour has Friedman traversing North America, with gigs at all kinds of Jewish community venues in places like Oregon, Virginia and Louisiana. Friedman's songs have been adopted by many Reform congregations as part of their prayer services, and she is a lifetime member of NIFTY, the movement's youth group. The Debbie Friedman phenomenon is bigger than Reform Judaism, however, and the executives at the West Coast upstart Jewish Music Group (JMG) are looking to take Friedman's career to new places with One People, her first studio album in three years. Friedman became the second-ever artist to sign with JMG last year (not long after the Moshav Band), and she began recording her new album shortly thereafter. JMG brought in producer Steven Miller (Sting, Tears for Fears, Backstreet Boys) to work on One People. Miller has allowed Friedman's signature piano-heavy Sixties femme-folk style to shine through, also adding flourishes like contributions from the TOVA Concert Singers choir. "Gather 'Round" explores Beatles groove territory, while the guitar and vocal-only "Mourning into Dancing" channels Joan Baez. "Days of My Life" has a Baroque feel, and the piano and flute of "Hear Our Voices" and the delicate samba of "Sing Unto God" explore Latin flavors. "People are looking for ways to manage the chaos that sometimes takes over in our lives," Friedman says of the themes that inspired People. "They are looking for ways to subvert intolerance and think and act in new ways that might have the ripple effect." This optimism and spirit of unity can be heard on the disc from the repetitious but catchy opener ("First to Rejoice") and anthemic sing-along title track to the liturgical "All That is Good." UDI DAVIDI Back to You (Pirsumei Nisa) Lazy-style vocals, affirmations of faith and upbeat guitar-oriented pop rock were the main attributes of Udi Davidi's 2004 debut, Speak to Him. Now the real-deal, Judean Hills Breslov shepherd-bard has released his sophomore effort, Back to You, which displays more maturity than its predecessor even if its songs still aren't the most memorable. About half of the album's tracks are relatively forgettable smooth rock numbers that carry on for a bit too long - among them "Shir Hama'alot," "Asher Bara" and the opening "L'kha Eli." The title track has an interesting beat but not much else going on. Elsewhere, "Dayenu" uses a Mizrahi rhythm and a straight rock melody as a new treatment for an old Passover favorite. "Eizeh Tov" is an over-the-top rocker that utilizes a children's choir at points for added oomph. And the album does have its compelling moments. "Hitna'ari," which intersperses verses from the "L'kha Dodi" prayer with original lyrics, has a welcome downbeat feel and an elegant melody with unconventional phrasing. And with its trippy chanted falsetto refrain, intentionally out-of-tune antique piano and accordion arrangement, "Ben Shel Melekh" is the album's strongest and most stylized selection. Ben Jacobson can be reached at