Thursday, October 28, 2010

The wizard of us

Anyone who has ever spent significant time around me will know that I often sing one of several songs, depending on the situation I find myself in or the mood I'm currently enjoying. Many of these songs are Jewish, but there are a few that aren't Jewish. Amazingly enough, they're all from around 1994. I'm not sure why I remember the hit songs from that year's daily bus rides any better than any other year's, but I suppose that is as it is. Not that I remember most of the songs- to the contrary, I generally just know some of the tune and bits of the chorus. But it's enough. These songs are all non-Jewish, but they're all family-friendly (no females), and in a good cause.

Last but not least, here's a cover of "One of us" sung by Prince. I'd put the original up, but I'm morally opposed to giving Joan Osborne any airplay on TRS. Besides, I am a bit of a homeboy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Whoever thought?

As some of you might be aware, I recently did a nice little interview about religion. In the comments of that post, I was asked a few questions. Here's my answers.

e: Would you observe the traditional seven-day mourning period if your kid left the religion, but didn't marry a non-Jew?

A: I would ask my local orthodox rabbi for the correct approach to this issue. In general, I think it would probably be based on how my kid left Judaism. Did they convert to another religion, or merely stop practicing this one? But again, I would let Daas Torah decide.

Actually, as you can see, I was only asked one question. And now you know what I would do.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A review of Hasc 23

There are some things in this world whose worth is obvious to all. Everyone can appreciate that a freshly baked muffin from Breadsmith is in all cases superior to a stale cookie from Ostreichers (not that I have anything against Ostreichers. On the contrary, I'm a big fan of their products. But still). Sure, the obnoxious among us could come up with an example that disproves my assertion (as Lipa would say, "Diet Diet"), but generally speaking, kulam modim that one is better than the other.

There are other things in this world whose worth is entirely subjective. I sell earphones for a living, and I would challenge you to find ten randomly selected people who can say that the Shure 535s are any worse sounding than a pair of triple-driver Westones or a copper Turbine Pro, or a Klipsch X10, or a Sennheiser X8, or a Grado GR8, or... you get the point. All these earphones cost a ton of money, and they all sound great. Of course different people will prefer different ones, and they'll all have their own reasons for those choices. Does that make any opinion and more valid than another? Besides, something like 97% of people can't tell the difference anyway. As the holy Jewish books say, "On taste and smell there can be no argument." Point is, everything I'm going to be writing in this review is my opinion and my opinion only.

And another thing. It's very difficult to take the full measure of a cd on just a few listenings. It's a scientific fact (I'm not making this up) that the more often you hear something (be it music or a campaign ad) the more you like it. Also, I'm judging this cd based on what it is, a cd, not a concert. What I mean to say is that there are many things which work wonderfully well in a concert setting which don't work well at all on a music cd. I loved the dialogues between Avraham Fried and Lipa, but how often can you listen to them before you get sick? Same goes for much of this concert- it was absolutely tremendous being there, but to listen to it repeatedly? Again, watching this on DVD, which you aren't likely to do more than a few times, is entirely different than listening on your iPod.

Having got all the caveats out of the way, it's time for an actual review.

The show begins with Nachum Segal announcing that it's time for A Time for Music 23, and Yisroel Lamm swings into action with the Neginah Orchestra and the Choir running through a review of everyone's favorite Avremel and Lipa tunes. It's well done, but it serves more to whet the appetite for what lies ahead than to really produce any masterpieces. Which I suppose is the point of intros. So good for them.

There are three types of people out there: those who love everything Avremel/Lipa do, those who hate everything they do, and the three percent of the population that lies somewhere in between. The first type will obviously be buying this cd sight unseen, and the latter won't touch it with a ten foot pole. So who is this review for? It's for the people in the middle, the ones who like Jewish music but don't feel the need to own every single recording of every tnuah of every Chazak or Hentelach. Will this cd be a good buy for them?

The first song of the main course is the old standard Mareh Kohen, very well sung by the two stars of the show. I'll be honest- there's at least twenty songs that I'd love to hear these two guys cover before this one, but for all that, it's an enjoyable experience.

Moving quickly along we've got Avraham Fried's Boruch Haboh, again with Lipa dueting. The gold standard for this song, at least until now, was the one Avremel sung at the YU concert so many moons ago, which after you got past all the annoying chatter in the beginning, was incredibly powerful. This version, I think, takes the cake, with both singers giving it their all. The only thing marring it is a bit of distortion with Lipa when he's really screaming, but I can live with that. Notwithstanding that, it's a really solid song, and probably worth the price of admission in and of itself. I'll certainly be adding it to my "HASC classics" playlist, where it will join other classics like MBD's Golus Paroh (2), Ko Amar (6) and Mimkomcha (7), Fried's Eliyahu Hanavi and Lashanah Habah (both 3), and the great Yoel Sharabi's Hineni Kahn (1). There are a few others, but those are the important ones. And again, I love "A small piece of heaven," but how often can you listen to the same English song?

The next song is one of those which would have been wonderful to see in person, but which grow tiring after six or seven repetitions. It's a version of R' Yom Tov Ehrlich's classic story of the salesangel and his attempts to sell the Torah to the various nations. Avremel and Lipa really do a great job with this one, though inhabitants of France (you know who you are) might find Fried's interpretation of their accent to be the tiniest bit offensive. I assume that there were myriad special effects or costumes or something to go along with this song, but since it's difficult to tell these things solely through hearing them, I must withhold comment. If someone wants to send me a DVD of the concert I won't say no, but until then my lips are sealed. They're not sealed regarding the song this one leads into, which is Lipa's Bichsav-Baal Peh. It was never my favorite, but it's great to hear Avremel really get into it.

Lipa's off stage for the next number, a melody of Chabad Niggunim sung by Avraham Fried. Nothing too remarkable, though my years in 770 have conditioned me to expect a "Yechi Hamelech" in Didan Notzach, but I suppose that would be asking a lot of the concert committee. It's a very nice melody, as melodies go, but I'm disappointed that there's nothing off Avremel's latest album, Yankel Yankel. Wasn't that the whole point of releasing four albums of Lubavitcher niggunim, that we wouldn't have to listen to Hupp Cossak for the 89th time?

The first several times Lipa appeared at Hasc were by way of video, and people have undoubtedly been waiting for him to repeat those songs at Hasc in real life. Or at least I assume that's the case, because the next track is Gelt, Abi Meleibt, and Diet. Nicely done, nothing spectacular. I really wish he'd sing some of the slow tracks off his albums, because many those are really gorgeous. No one ever accused Diet of being gorgeous.

Ahh, my wish for something hartzig is fulfilled with Avremel singing R' Shlomo Carlebach's Gam Ki Elech. I always feel like there's something missing from a Carlebach song if the performer's voice is too nice, but Avremel manages to rise above that handicap to truly do this song justice.

What is with Dedi and Jim Hynes? Oh, sorry I think I forgot to mention that Dedi makes an appearance with "Kulanu". And it's time for the requisite, "When will Dedi finally put out a new CD?" His energy in concert is really great, and he really looks cute strutting up and down the stage. Obviously there's no strutting included with this cd, but it doesn't hurt to use your imagination once in a while.

There was much discussion following the release of A Poshite Yid regarding the two versions of Wake Up and which one was better. You can add a third version to that roiling controversy, and I think the only sensible solution is the old, "There's maalos and chisronos to everything."

As I mentioned above, there are certain things that work wonderfully at concerts but not so much on a cd. Another example of that would be Avremel and Lipa singing a medley of Fiddler on the Roof shtuff. Hearing them interact is quite cute, and they obviously enjoy being with each other on stage. But to hear their interactions too many times? It reminds me of those pizza stores or car services where they have the same cd playing for three years. Still, it's really cute.

Ahh, the next song is what a concert should be- a chance for Avremel, Lipa, and Dedi to sing Anovim (MBD), Vehi Sheomdah (Shwekey), and Kulanu Ahuvim (MBD). Gorgeous. Tremendous. Seriously.

Next up is a song I've never particularly liked, Lipa's Hallelu, done with R' Yitzchok Fuchs. I mean, it sounds as good as it'll ever sound, I just don't like it.

Moving right along, we've got Lipa singing his "Hentelach around the world," which actually sounds a lot better than the version on the Oorah cd. Again, and I seem to have beaten this particular horse to death already, but this song is great for concerts, not so much for daily listening.

Many years ago Avremel came out with a single called Change the World, or something like that. All right, so he didn't actually come out with it, but it somehow ended up on my iPod. I have no idea. Anyway, this live version is superior to that one, even if the lyrics are still a bit sappy. But what else can you expect from a Hasc anthem?

And just like that, it's time for the traditional Hasc finale. Fortunately it's not something pathetic like Dedi singing R' Shlomo's Neshoma, but rather a medley of popular melodies (I've always wanted to use that one) from the stars of the show, actually sung by the stars of the show (unlike the opening act). More of the same? Yeah, I guess so, but which heathen doesn't want more Avremel, Lipa, and Dedi singing each other's songs? Hmm? I didn't think so.

And that, as the saying goes, is it. Should you buy it? Obviously those who buy every Hasc, Lipa, Avremel, or Dedi production have purchased it already. But how about for those on the fence? Should they fork over the big bucks? Well, that depends. If you're looking for music you've never heard from these performers, this is a good cd for you. If you're looking for a transcendent musical experience that will change your life, or at least be wildly inspirational, perhaps you should have bought tickets to the concert. Overall though, it's a really nice cd. I certainly don't regret getting it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tachanun redux

So there's a bit of an ongoing discussion amongst the Lubavitchers at work regarding that old hobby horse of mine, tachanun. You see, our non-lubabitch brethren (of the hassidic ilk) very rarely, if ever, say the penitential prayers during the afternoon services. Why is this? I'm not quite sure. Perhaps they're worried about time. A noble trait, to be sure, but one that nonetheless rings hollow. If they wanted to say tachanun, they'd make time. Besides, from what I hear, they pretty much never say 'em anyway, regardless of context. But hey, that doesn't bother me. To each their own.

The question naturally arises when one davens with a minyan lead by these non-sayers: to say or not? Some are of the opinion that there's no need to say Tachanun, and in fact it's a bad thing. After all, there is the dictum of "Al tifrosh min hatzibbur," and when the minyan isn't saying something, why should we?

On the other hand, I am a Lubavitcher, and as such, I have the arrogance to assume that everything I do (mitzad Lubavitch) is the correct thing to do. In this case, when everyone is merrily skipping their way past tachanun and right onto aleinu, I begin to beat my chest and repent for my evil. When fellow Lubavitchers question my behavior, I ask them if they'd ever say tachanun on 19 Kislev. Obviously they wouldn't. So why is it any different here?

I could think of many examples where, as Lubavitchers, we thumb our noses at the world. Just because this time it would be convenient to go along with everyone, does that mean we should do it? I know that some people will think, "Well, it's not like you're eating chalav akum." But really, is it that different? They're both commandments from G-d.

What say you?