This past weekend I got the new CD’s from Ohad and Shwekey I’ll be reviewing the Ohad CD soon and then maybe I’ll get to those Blue Fringe and Moshav reviews I’ve been pushing off. I’m reviewing Shwekey first because I started listening to it first and therefore have a better feel of the album then I do of Ohad’s. If you want to read another review of this album click here. If you want to read a review of Ohad’s album by JewishBlogmeister click here.
Let me just start off reviewing by saying that I have jumped on and of the Shwekey bandwagon a few times. I refused to buy into the hype when the first CD came out and I just really didn’t think it was anything extra ordinary. When Mama Rochel came out from Journeys 4 I really started to change my mind and when Yedid came out I was right there at the front of the bandwagon. I personally thought Yedid was an outstanding album. This is Yaakov Shwekey’s 4th regular album release. He has also sung on many wedding CD’s and guested on a few others including Journey’s 4 and Shmuel Brazil’s Shuvu El Hashem.
The first song, Birushus, is a nice song but I have a hard time connecting with it. It seems that it’s an attempt to create yet another instant wedding song. But not a wedding song that comes and goes during the dancing. This is designed to be a song that you can play at the end of the wedding. To me it just feels cheesy and I couldn’t ever hear myself singing this song sitting at the table waiting for all the straglers to come back from the Viennese table to bentch and hear the Brochos. Maybe I would like this song better with other lyrics. I like the music that’s forsure.
Lesheim Shayamayim starts off very good and it has portions that could really be great, but overall this song just seems like it’s missing a special “POW!”. The adult choir is overdone but the music is really good. The more I listen to this song the more I like it, but no doubt it’s missing something.
The chorus of Eishes Chayil is very nice and very aidel but it reminds me of another song. I’m almost positive it’s from another Shwekey CD but I can’t place it. Specifically by the actual words “Eishes Chayil” … dum duh duh … if someone else hears it please let me know. That’s a problem that keeps poping up throughout this album. Many of the songs have very similar sounds to Yedid but don’t actually live up to the songs they are being modeled after.
Essentially it seems that they wanted to reproduce the success and sounds of Yedid without having to change anything. Hey, that idea works almost all the time for bands and groups that want to play it safe. If it aint broke, why fix it? But in trying to recreate Yedid something gets lost in transition.
Emes is a very interesting song. It’s a good Leibedik song and (again) this song is custom built for the dance floor. Which will ensure the album does well in the stores but to me it says something else very interesting about the direction Shwekey is going in. I personally think if there was one style adjustment that came out from this CD it’s a slight shift away from Chassidic and more towards Yeshivish. This song is almost exclusively a Yeshivish niggun. What does that mean? Decide that for yourself, it’s hard to explain, but I feel it just is. I wonder how it breaks down in actual sales receipts. Does Shwekey do better in places like Monsey and Lakewood then Boro Park and Crown Heights?
Yizekerem is the first song on this CD that I really enjoyed all the way through. The music actually reminds me a lot of the Miami albums from the time period of It’s Min Hashamyim, One by One and The Simcha Song, (Which happens to be my favorite MBC era). It’s a nice song for Yaakov’s voice and even though it isn’t groundbreaking musically, it does feel a little different then Yedid. This is one one of my favorite songs on the album.
The next song is called Halo Yadata and it’s “the Sepharidic song” the has become obligatory on all Jewish music albums today. I hesitant to trash this song because I wasn’t a fan of Ki Hatov the first few times I heard that song either. After I heard it a lot of times (my wife loves that song so it wore out the repeat button a few times) I eventually liked it more, but the clincher for me was seeing the live version at Hasc 18. (Not the chopped up redone version thats on the DVD) The live version was extensive and very good.
Bringing it back to Halo Yadata, I just don’t think this its anywhere near the level of Ki Hatov and instead of repeating a point, go back to Eishes Chayil and apply everything I wrote there to this song. It’s missing energy and it’s not as powerful and not as catchy, I just don’t think this song as good as Ki Hatov. It’s a shame because I think Shwekey sounds really good when he does Sephardic style songs. I wonder if he feels pressured that the Yeshivish community wouldn’t like anything too wild Sepharidicly speaking. I think he should have two maybe even three of these style songs on his albums. Even though it’s not as good as Ki Hatov, it’s nicer then a lot of the other fast songs on ths album.
Tata a.k.a. In A Vinkele this song is “reimagined” from Abie Rotenberg’s Dveykus albums. I’m gonna try to keep this short because my mother always told me if I don’t have anything positive to say don’t say anything at all. I don’t like this song. I feel it’s a major butcher job, the yiddish makes me cringe and the only good thing is the music from the original song. I love the original version of this song and I love Lev Tahor’s version of this song, but I am not a fan of this version at all. The same goes for the English version of this song, plus add on some really horrible rhymes. More evidence that Jewish Music should stay far far away from English lyrics. (Just wait for my review of Ohad’s CD and the “Stop” song.)
Hein Am is another song that I can’t place, but it sounds like another Shwekey song (or maybe a Nochum Stark song?). Regardless – I like it. It’s a good fast song, it’s got a lot more energy then you find in other songs on this album, and the only problem is that it’s a bit short. They have 13 songs on this CD but the fast songs are all short and the slow ones are all very long. Only other problem with this song is that the words aren’t enunciated enough and it sounds like he is saying Heynum Heynum … not Hein Am.
Ki Hashem is a song that starts out with a lot of potential but then it doesn’t really go anywhere. The lyrics are really nice and Shwekey’s voice is really powerful and sounds great. But the song doesn’t break out of the average vibe that resonates throughout this entire album. Personally I think this song is lacking in meaningful arrangements. For reasons I can’t state in this review I’ve been trying to pay extra attention to arrangements and I’m starting to really notice and appreciate when they are done right. That also means I’m recognizing more where arrangements are lacking or where they are lazy. Case in point.
Ma Ma Ma – I loved … LOVED the saxophone that starts off this song and overall I really like this song. Feel free to hit me over the head with something, but the same thing I said about Eishes Chayil and Halo Yadata applies here too. It’s bit lackluster and doesn’t have that Chayos that was found repeatedly in Yedid. I like the chorus a lot, it’s very catchy and again, something about the chorus specifically reminds me another song, but I like it. Ironically, despite what I just said, this is the one fast song I think is a bit too long.
Meshoich Noam is a nice slow song that fits nicely at the end of the album and leads into the next song very well. It’s once again not anything major and it doesn’t strike any real chords, but it’s a nice song.
Tata Aka In A Vinkele (See Yiddish review, that’s it I’m not gonna rehash this all over again, but honestly the English doesn’t jell at all and it just sounds like a poetry entry in a 3rd Grade Girls school contest.
My final words are that I think Shwekey really blew it on this album and I think that it’s just not overall an impressive album. I won’t jump off the bandwagon just yet, because I think he is a really great voice and as has been proven with Yedid, with the right mix of songs, style, arrangements his albums can be standout productions. This just wasn’t one of them. Better luck next time.