RETURN TO DISCOGRAPHY
With the three weeks now upon us, it is back to Sefira music, at least for those of us who listen to a capella music during the three weeks. While the offerings seem to come fast and furious during sefira and the three weeks, the boys of AKA Pella have made a name for themselves by combining great vocals with a diverse selection of songs, some paired with other songs that are similar lyrically, musically or both.
Let me issue my usual disclaimer. I generally don’t listen to secular music so there is a lot going on here that I just don’t get. With apologies to C.D. Eichler and the talented crew that is AKA Pella, I am missing a lot of the humor, fun and brilliance that is here. But no matter. There is still plenty to listen to here and enjoy, although if you frown upon any secular influences in your music, this is not the album for you.
For those of you who have been living in a cave for the last few years, AKA Pella is produced by C.D. Eichler, also one of the group’s vocalists. Clearly Eichler spends all his waking hours figuring out ways to combine music – be it new, old, Jewish, secular or anything in between. His instincts are generally on the money and AKA Pella bills it’s music as “so good it should be assur.” The regular AKA vocalists, Yoel Horowitz, Elie Ganz, Dovi Ziffer, C.D. Eichler, Zevi Daniel and Elchonon Majeski are joined this time around by Shmuel Braun, Shloime Kaufman, Shallom Engel, Simcha Leiner and Yitzy Spinner. Standout arrangements by Ed Boyer and Eichler really make each song into something memorable.
Kulam Ahuvim Telephone – This song, featuring MBD’s Kulam Ahuvim, grew on me more than the others and has earned a coveted spot on the playlist that I listen to during my morning hike, which I am sure is the holy grail for all Jewish singers. Tons of fun to sing along with and these songs are so well matched it is hard to tell where one song ends and the other begins.
The TGIF Medley II – This was not one of my favorites at first listen, but it is a great song to sing along with and somewhere along the way I forgot that I didn’t enjoy it initially. Special shoutout to C.D. Eicher and Zevi Daniel for some really good lyrics. My favorite? “We may be the men but you be wearing the pants.”
Moves Like Nilli Milli – Yitzy Spinner and AKA Pella go together like milk and cookies and if anything, listening to this song, you wonder why they didn’t get together sooner. Spinner, a serious contender for the crown of most-all-around-talented-guy-in-the-music-business shines in this pairing of songs that, once again, fit together seamlessly. Spinner also takes the prize for the best EVER lyrics in Jewish music in a subtle harmony on MBD’s Im Eyn Ani Li at 3:31 where he sings (wait for it, wait for it – you ready??) “I got the moves like Mordche.”
7th Heaven – In case you thought the boys of AKA Pella were the bad boys of Jewish music, think again. In both their slow medleys they prove themselves worthy and very capable of singing so straightforwardly (who knew that was a real word?) and so beautifully that they could be hired to sing the chupah at the wedding of the greasiest bochur in Brisk to the most toasted girl from BJJ. Just stunning. This pairing of Shloime Gertner’s Hashomayim and Shwekey’s Mimkomcha is gorgeous.
Tick Tock – See? Now this is what I love about AKA Pella albums. C.D. Eichler doesn’t just go for the mega hits – he mines out great songs that have been potentially overlooked. This one, Tick Tock from Shea Rubenstein’s Ohavti (with harmonies on the original album done by Yitzy Spinner that make the song pop), is a fun song and another great choice if you like to sing along.
Moshiach/Moshiach – Ready for more fun with a Latin American flair? Originally I found the timing on both Benny Friedman’s Moshiach and Miami Boys Choir’s song by the same name too slow for my taste, but the great piece at 3:28 (no clue what the English song is, nor do I care) wouldn’t have worked well at a faster tempo. Again, close the windows and sing along with this one. You know you want to!
No Lyrics/No Lyrics Old School –Both versions of this one of a kind song from Benny Friedman’s Taamu album are awesome and must listens. Hearing the two mashed together in the outtakes is totally outrageous. Benny Friedman and Avi Newmark, if you are reading this, hope you guys are shepping nachas big time. Is there a greater tribute to one of your songs than to having it redone twice on an album? (Three times if you count the outtakes.)
Pruz Control – Ok, guys, what is up with the Seinfeld thing? This combo of Pruzansky songs is yet another example of AKA Pella’s uncanny ability to do dead on imitations of singers. Special shoutout to Simcha Leiner, who with every vocal, manages to climb yet higher on the musical ladder of success. Keep an eye out for Simcha. While there are so many talented newcomers out there, he is one who will definitely be going places.
Birchos Avicha/Birchos Habanim – Both songs (Dovid Gabay’s Omar Dovid and Ohad III) are really beautiful. But again, I found the tempo a little on the slow side (yes, I know they are supposed to be slow songs) and this was the first time ever on an AKA Pella album that I really felt I was listening to a Sefira album and missed the “fake” accompaniment that makes the AKA albums sound like authentic music.
Ya’alili – If you are a Ya’alili fan, you will love this fresh, slightly irreverent take on the song with all new lyrics that will have you chuckling all the way through.
Aravim – Another song that wasn’t a favorite of mine at first, but grew on me in a big way. From the fun intro (again, don’t know what it is and have no interest in finding out) they made this song really explode. Great guest vocals by both Shloime Kaufman and Simcha Leiner.
Cutting Room Floor/Outtakes – A chaval that some great vocals by Yitzy Spinner ended up on the cutting room floor, because they are huge.
Anyone who’s been following the Jewish music scene over the last few years,will no doubt be familiar with the group called A.K.A. Pella. This talented group broke out onto the music scene a few years back with their smashing debut album Premium Blend. I remember hearing it for the first time, and I was like, “WOW! These guys are really good!” They were combining secular intros with pop jewish music and doing it really well. Then along came Volume 2 which was even better than Volume 1. The next year was followed by ADAPTATION which really started getting interesting. They were now mixing and weaving secular intros with jewish intros, harmonies and instrument sounds so well that they had at this point already become one of the most anticipated CDs of the entire year. Finally came along PLATINUM, which basically blew away any previous notions of what an AKA PELLA album could be like. At this point,it had already become official. AKA PELLA was now king of a cappella! Their groundbreaking and original lyric adaptions, intros,outros,harmonies,and realistic instrument sounds simply had to be heard to be believed.
I remember thinking to myself,there is simply no way in the world they would ever be able to top this. Well,top it they did! I have no idea how. But one thing I could say is this: the combination of professional sounding good music and hilarious shtick is something I have never heard before in my life on any album.Period.
Okay, now on to the songs.
1.KULAM AHUVIM TELEPHONE. The song starts off with a dial tone and automated voice telling us the number can not be reached. I must say, I was caught a bit off guard. I knew there would be a lot of shtick in store, but I wasn’t expecting it right at the beginning. Once again very original! They then start off with Gaga’s Telephone intro to the words of Kulam Ahuvim. At One minute in,Avi Stewart comes on giving us a nice rendition of MBDs original low part. I’ve never heard his voice before but I would describe it in three words: Sweet and Crystal Clear, sort of how I like my chicken soup. Then we have C.D.Eichler, Shmuel Braun and Sholom Engel doing the high part. One thing I just want to add: I found the melodies and the harmonies on this song in particular blend so well together that it’s hard to even notice where they start and stop. Its just one long beautiful seamless harmony. I’ve always loved the original Kulam Ahuvim but I’ll admit,I found this version much more exciting! In fact the Gaga song and the MBD song blend so well together, that if I didn’t know better, I’d be convinced they’re actually one song.
2.TGIF MEDLEY. They start off with the usual (yawn inducing) AKA Pella “DumDums” and then suddenly they come on with Flo-Rida Good Feeling intro. “On Shabbos,I get a good feeling!(YEEEEAAH!!)That I Neva Neva Neva had before!!(OH NOOO!!)” Then Pitbull(A.k.a.Yaakov Eidelman) comes on and he does the rap part about Shabbos. I must say Yaakov really nails it and if Pitbull ever needs to call in sick one day, he can always call on Yaakov. Special mention also, by the way, goes to Zevi Daniel for the funky and inspirational lyrics. At 1:20 they “Find Sholom Aleichem in a heartless place”(Originally Rhianna) and they go through the entire Shalom Aleichem.Then at 1:50 they do “Lchah Dodi on the floor.”(The sefardim I think,actually do it on the floor. On a mat) ,We then get some more rap,with Chris Brown’s “International Ashes Chayil”(I think that would help the shidduch crisis btw,if we had more international Ashes Chayils,instead of just marrying people from our hometowns.) I never thought I’d see a Chris Brown tune with King Solomon doing the lyrics, but here it is. The very first King Solomon/Chris Brown collaboration!
3.”Moves like Nilli Milli”(Say what?!) Okay guys.If you’ve never heard Yitzy(Spinner) before then listen to this! Yitzy,who btw was a major Miami soloist a few years back, really shines on this song, which starts off with the whistle of the original “Jagger” tune and then Yitzy comes on with MBD’s Im Ain Ani Li off Kulam Ahuvim. Surprisingly enough,this song actually goes on at this point for about a minute straight with just beautiful singing and no shtick. Then Yitzy does a nice spin (pun intended) on the song and does it in English to the Jagger tune. At 2:52 Yitzy nails that high part as his voice soars to a really scary height and finally rounds it off with “And it goes like that!”Awesome Job Yitzy!!
4.Next up is Gertners 7th Heaven.(No he doesn’t really have a song called that, but if you listen to his Hashamayim,you’ll feel like you’re in 7th heaven!) Just a word on the original song.I am a huge Gertner fan and when I first heard the song on Say Asay,I was literally blown away! It gives you a “soothing, floating” feel. They start off with the original Gertner song and I just love how they do the high part on the second Yihaaaaaalilucha, exactly like Gertner does it!! 10 points for that! Then they do Shwekey’s Mimkomcha from Ad Bli Dai. Beautiful job, but still not like Shwekey’s original. Btw this is the first of the 2 slow songs on the album, actually 4 if you break up the songs in both medleys, and it is really beautifully done. If youre a “pure” a cappella person,than this song is for you.Its the only song with no fake music or shtick at all.
5.Back to the “DumDums” again, this time its Shea Rubenstein’s Tick Tock.WOW!! Really Really great drumwork btw!!(Ok,sorry.I should really call it mouthwork,but that would sound more like something that happens at the dentist)They start off with the “Smashing” (there really is smashing btw, later in the song) low part and quickly move on to Kesha’s revised version of Tic Toc.Love the part “Tonight wer’e gonna shteig til we see the sunlight!”, and then back again to Shea’s Tick Tock.(Which reminds me btw Hayom Kotzer,so I really gotta finish this review already and get back to my day job!) At 3;25 we get another surprise, it’s Katy Perry’s California and then back again to Shea’s TickTock. This song is just plain “CRAZY” with a Capital “C”!!Simply no other way to describe it!
6.MOSHIACH-MOSHIACH.This starts off with Yitzy saying something in fluent Spanish.I really have no clue what he said but I will ask one of my Mexican coworkers later what it means.We start off with Benny Friedman’s Moshiach.What could I say about this song that hasn’t been already said?Its just really really good and these guys actually do Benny justice! Trust me,it’s no easy feat but they do it.Then they do Miami’s Moshiach which is also a great song. At 3:23 we get Eglasias’s Bailamos and Gaga’s Alanjenro.(I think Gaga’s on this cd more than CDEichler himself)
7.NO LYRICS. Starts off with WRITTEN IN THE STARS and then Benny’s NO LYRICS and a bit of E.T. followed by “Watch You Burn” Guitar work. WOW! The blending of four different songs in the end by the way is just incredible!
8.PRUZ CONTROL. This song starts off with some really wacky stuff going on, surprisingly enough, and from reading the jacket,it seems to have something to do with Seinfeld.Then we get a nice lineup of four Pruz songs.The first is a nice rock track off his Pruzbul album called Taaseh Mitzvah.I like this song which has a nice repetitive and funky groove.They even do the digitized muffled voice thing which adds a cool touch. (Autotune?) Then comes BackStreet Boys Larger Than Life, which if I remember correctly,came out like 13 years ago. Then Litav Uvid. Nice trumpet work at the end and also a nice job once again on the Kesha-Blow part! Next is another good Pruz song, Uray Vanim and I gotta admit,I like the secular shtick after even better than the song itself! Finally they end off with Zeh Lazeh. I loved this song,from the first time I heard it on Shloime Kaufman’s Avodas Tzedakah album and I believe this is their second time doing something from that album. The first was Sunshine in the Rain, which they did last time around on Platinum.
9.Birchos Avicha.They start off with the typical Akapella Woohoo’s and then go right into Birchos Avicha from Dovid Gabay’s second album,Omar Dovid. It is a reall,y really beautiful and heart tugging song and the AKA guys do a stunning job! At 2:30 child soloist Gavriel Klatzko comes on and does Ohad’s Birchos Habonim.Iv’e never heard his voice before but it’s really sweet and pleasant. Then the adult soloist comes on with a much deeper voice doing the high part. WOW! Really really nice job! The contrast of child and adult voices on this song compliment eachother perfectly. Everytime I hear this song I can just picture Ohad standing there on stage,with all of his children standing around,and he’s dramatically spreading his hands, emotionally blessing them all. Just a word on the creativity in general on this albumand on this song in particular.The concept of combining Birchos Avicha and Birchos habonim is just brilliant. Not only do they go together perfectly in theme, but musically they blend together perfectly and like every song throughout the album,is well thought out and very originally blended.
10.YAALILI.Before you read any further,I just want to give you a little disclaimer.No Sefardim, Ashkenazim, Misnagdim or Chassidim were harmed in any way in the writing of this review. And that’s how the song starts. The first thing that really shocked me on this song was the instrument sounds, particularly the guitar work,and some other Middle Eastern sounding instruments.(Sorry.Dont know all the names) When was the last time you actually heard Electric Guitar work on a pcapella album? It is so real sounding that its actually kind of scary! At 14 seconds in, the song starts and basically what they do is go through different hilarious Ashkenazic Sefardic comparisons,like for example ‘Marlboro Reds,Ashkenazi, smoking hookah, oh Sefaradi.Boring last names(Weiss,Cohen,Katz)Ashkenazi, exciting last names, Oh sefaradi.(Actually that’s only the Syrians.) I don’t really know why.But I find the sefardim like this version more then the Ashkenazim! It ends off with someone sneezing!(I guess they didn’t catch that in the editing process.)
11.ARAVIM.Starts off with Rhiannas “NANANA C’MON! and then goes into Shwekey’s Aravim.At 1:39 theres a cool Yeshiva Boys Choir style autotune and then Bruno Mars comes on! (Don’t know how they got him to agree to be on the album.) Well, ok.It’s actually Shlom Kaufman, but he definitely sounds a bit like Bruno. First he does the Grenade lyrics.”I’d even catch a grenade for ya!” And then the AREIVIM lyrics and it really works, because ,to my mind at least,the definition of true Ahavas Chinam is being willing to catch a grenade for another Jew. Shira Chadashah choir comes on and does the high part and these boys are really good. Simcha Leiner also sings on this one and his vocal range really adds alot to this song. Look out for him in the near future, he’s really good!
12.NO LYRICS “OLD SCHOOL” 90’S ALTERNATE VERSION. Once again they really nail Benny’s No LYRICS on this track. This time they mix it up with a few interesting secular songs which I’m not really familiar with.I just love the Jamacian(?)song at 2:11.Really cool Mash-Up!
13.CUTTING ROOM OUTTAKES.First they start off with NO LYRICS beng overlapped with Written In The Stars and Watch You burn and E.T. All at once, which is really cool! Then comes EDGE OF YITZY, in which Yitzy does the lowpart of ARAIVIM and purposely goes really screechingly high. Hilarious! Then Yitzy advertises for MOZICA beer in a Spanish accent, “Be thirsty,my friends!” Next comes that “Seinfeld thing” with George’s parents – not really sure exactly whats going on there. Then a yeshiva bochur comes on and starts ‘TYNING” and finally we get Goofy himself.
In summary, there really is no excuse not to buy this album.It’s by far one of the most original and well done albums to come out in a long time. My only complaint is that they don’t come out with another album Purim time. ENJOY!!!