SHLOMI SHABAN Ir (A City) (NMC) Seven years after his top-selling debut album was released, singer/songwriter Shlomi Shaban returns with a sophomore offering, Ir (A City). The classically trained pianist's new soft rock album is comprised of 13-tracks. Once again, Shaban keeps his music simple and focuses on lyrics. But those expecting to find a new "Arik" (the mega hit from his 2000 album) will be disappointed. Shaban's new stuff is less tongue-in-cheek and more mature, cynical and harsh. The text on Ir is personal and bittersweet. He has done away with his signature funny voice changes from his debut album and instead offers a melancholic performance. Those who have followed his career will not be surprised to see several top musicians on the album's credits (among them Assaf Amdursky, Habiluim, Eran Zur, Gil Samanta, etc). In 2002, he and rock star Rami Fortis joined forces on a successful tour around the country. In 2003, he paired up with musician Eran Zur for an ongoing tour. That same year Shaban also composed music for theater, television and movies and he and Assaf Amdursky collaborated on the wonderful soundtrack for the local film, Nina's Tragedies. In 2004, Shaban composed and arranged music for the Batsheva Dance Company's production PianoJunkYard to much acclaim. Shaban has proven his musical versatility time and again. On Ir, he shows that he still has something to offer the contemporary pop-rock field. The ballad "Muchan Le'Ahava" (Ready for Love) is perhaps the best track on the album and has already become a popular single on radio and television music rotations. Ir will likely produce a few more hits, but they will probably be surrounded by much less hype than "Arik," "Sharmuta Puritanit," or "Kulam Omrim from his debut album. That's not a bad thing; it just proves that Shaban in 2007 is a different musician than he was seven years ago. HAYEHUDIM (The Jews) Forte (Hatav Hashmini) Hard rockers Hayehudim, or The Jews, recently added Forte to record store shelves. Though the title of the album suggests that this will be a loud and forceful musical assault, husband-and-wife singers Tom Petrover and Orit 'tt' Shachaf come out sounding somewhat subdued compared to their previous albums. Hayehudim, founded in 1995, have four studio albums to their name, plus a double live album and DVD. The band's output is almost always compared to its first album, Metziyut Nifredet, which still stands as one of the best Israeli hard rock albums ever. But anyone who expects a repeat performance of Metziyut Nifredet will likely be disappointed. Hayehudim began as an alternative indie group who couldn't care less about the mainstream. Today, they are promoted by the cellular phone company Cellcom in an attempt to attract the masses (the album has also been released in a first of its kind digital cellular format). This latest album is not overpowering like some of their initial music, but it is also not quiet. Petrover and Shachaf scream and belt out texts about love, hate, suffering, loneliness, and hope. As on their previous albums, the band combines Hebrew and English lyrics in their repertoire. Four of the 15 tracks on Forte are in English, among them "Don't Like," "Learning," "Somebody Else," and "What about You." Musically, the band's output is at its finest with sound arrangements and top-quality guitar playing by Petrover, Daniel Brecher and Guy Be'er. And while the peformances on Forte might not be among the band's best, it nonetheless fills the five-year void left since they last released an album. While Israel's pop and rock markets are overflowing with output, the hard rock scene is less saturated. On the one hand it is nice to see that the genre is still being updated. On the other hand, something less commercial and more indie would make an impact next time around.