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Benny Friedman’s “Yesh Tikva” Yesh Tikva

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What do you get when you combine an amazing and innovative producer (Avi Newmark), insanely talented vocalist (Benny Friedman), the top PR, marketing and graphics guru in Jewish Music (Sruly Meyer), and a whole slew of Jewish Music All Star talent (Nagila Orchestra, Mendy Werdyger, Yitzy Spinner, Ian Freitor, Ari Goldwag, Leib Yaakov Rigler, Yaron Gershovsky, and a host of others)? The answer ladies and gentleman is the hottest new album, Yesh Tikvah! Ever since Benny burst on the scene a few years ago he has become more and more popular and it’s not surprising at all. He is amazing! There have been hints about this release for a few months and unsurprisingly the finished product doesn’t disappoint. There is a mix of innovative and fresh sounds along with some of our favorite styles that with the right instrumentation and arrangements can be timeless! Without further ado here is my song by song assessment:

Yesh Tikvah- The essence of this song can be captured in the following short story. My brother in law came home with the new CD and told his 3 year old son that he had something to play. He turned on this song and the 2 of them danced around in pure joy! This techno styled song, composed by Ari Goldwag and arranged by Ian Freitor, is a cheerful song telling us to be joyful and full of hope that everything will be ok (thanks to the liner notes I can actually figure out the Hebrew!). As those of you who read my reviews know, I am not a huge fan of techno music, but this song has me hopping and dancing (like only I can) and I love it!

Haboicher- Benny is lucky to come from a very musically talented family, as his uncle is Avraham Fried, and his cousins are the Marcus Brothers of Eight Day fame. This disco hit is composed by Bentzi Marcus (from Eight Day) and arranged by arranger virtuoso Leib Yaakov Rigler. The inimitable background vocals are by the very talented and creative Yitzy Spinner. This song, besides being a real nice song, also has some real nice “knaytches” in it. I like how it starts like its being tuned in (I know it’s been done before but I like it), the bass guitar solo, how the song gets slow and the subsequent Rocky like guitar riffs. Benny range and voice really shine on the ending.

B’Sheim Hashem- This is a folksy yet hartzige song that I absolutely love. The song is composed by an unknown in the JM scene (gasp….you mean it’s actually possible to put out an album without using all the songs from the most famous composers…..yes I am being sarcastic) Marc Levine, who also sings with Benny. The song is dedicated in memory of Marc’s mother. The song, arranged by Leib Yaakov Rigler, starts off very simple and easy and the arrangements build as the song progresses. The modulation that begins at 4:13 is just absolutely gorgeous and from there to the end of the song just highlights what I love about Benny’s voice and singing talent.

Maaleh Ani- This classic rock song, composed by Elimelech Blumstein, is very tastefully arranged by the amazing rock guitarist, Aryeh Kunstler. I knew Aryeh had arranged a song on this album, and pegged this one as his arrangements before I had even looked at the cover. The background vocals & intro are by Ari Goldwag. The ending of this song is one that arrangers who currently have abrupt endings (yes, another of my pet peeves) should listen to and be inspired. This is a tasteful and simple ending that doesn’t take up much time and effort but are much easier on the ear.

Shalom Aleichem- The song starts of a bit eerily but I get the concept with the 2 classic Shalom Aleichem niggunim being featured, and when I was listening with my son, he started singing along to it. This song composed by Ari Goldwag and arranged by Ian Freitor, is a mix of a disco and techno styled song. It is a pleasant song that sort of ties in the older style of Jewish music and the current fresh sound (HT to Kol Isha for first it pointing it out to me). I could have done without the chanting interlude. Reminds me of a joke I once heard: “Singers sing and Cantors can’t”.

Mamleches Kohanim- This slow and heartfelt song, composed by Elimelech Blumstein and arranged by Ian Freitor, is especially poignant this time of year after we spent so much time reminding ourselves that Hashem is our Melech, our king. That makes us as Benny sings, Mamleches Kohanim V’goy Kadosh, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (thanks again to the translation in the cover). The interlude at 2:51 beginning with a guitar solo and ending with a modulation is very nice!

Ivdu- What a fun and happy sounding song! I fell in love with the intro when I heard the preview and hearing it in full and uncut, I love it even more. The song is composed by Yoni Eliav and Benny, and arranged by Yaron Gershovsky. I really like how Benny plays with the phrasing on the high part and sings it slightly different each time. I really enjoyed the synthesizer interlude at 2:51, and the ending, once again is a very tasteful way to end simply and not abruptly.

Dor Acharon- I don’t know if the “oompah” style songs are coming back in style again or not, but this song composed by Elimelech Blumstein and arranged by Ian Freitor, is a throwback song and is a very calming and enjoyable song.

Vahavioisim- This rock ballad is a pretty interesting and different (and I mean that in a good way) song. Composed by Yitzy Waldner and arranged by Ian Freitor, the song has a modern sound and feel to it. Adding in Yitzy Spinner’s background vocals (wow) and Gal Gershovsky’s bass drum (boom) to Benny’s ultra ridiculous voice just makes this song even better.

Dawn of Moshiach- This disco song, composed and written by Elimelech Blumstein, arranged by Ian Freitor highlights how we are ready for the dawn of Mashiach (bimhayra v’yamaynu in our days). This song as well has the background vocals by Yitzy Spinner (he really out does himself from one song to the next). The reggae interlude just highlights another one of Benny’s many vocal talents.

Berachamim- This haunting song really encapsulates the meaning of these words that we’ve been saying daily for the past few weeks. The song, composed by Ari Goldwag (who is also featured vocally on this song as well), arranged by Ian Freitor, and with background vocals by Yitzy Spinner, is beautiful and heartfelt. Sometimes I like to have the last song of an album be a pumping lebedike song, but this song is really a perfect ending to an amazing album.

In conclusion, if you haven’t figured out yet, I absolutely love and recommend this album! There is really no other way to say it! It is available at http://www.mostlymusic.com/yesh-tikvah.html or anywhere good Jewish Music is sold!

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Yesh Tikvah – Benny Friedman is the nephew of the legendary Avraham Fried and, not surprisingly, sounds exactly like him except for his vocal range. This being said, their musical styles and aspirations, shall we say, are completely different. Avraham Fried generally sticks to more of a mainstream song selection while his nephew tends to lean towards more of a “Technoey”, if you will genre. On that note, I will begin reviewing the title track which does in fact feature a techno/hora style that has become the rage in Jewish music as of late (Hofachto, Kvodo, Niggun Chabad just to name a few). Composed by Ari Goldwag and arranged by Ian Freitor, this song has a really catchy beat and tune which is perfect for dancing. Approximately 2:40 in there is an interlude which gives me the feeling that I’m standing in the middle of a dance club and the DJ wants to check his email so he tones down the music a little. Once he sadly sees that nothing of earth-shattering significance has been sent to him within the past 5 minutes he cranks up the music with a vengeance, highlighted by an awesome synth sound that closely resembles a police siren. To fend off the inevitable comments on this picture I’ve painted for you that will be posted by well-meaning and sincere people regarding the stigma (or prohibition) associated with dance clubs in the Jewish world I say this in advance: “I have never been, nor do I ever plan to be found in a dance club. This metaphor was just that – a metaphor. Also, the fact that you’re attempting to guide me in the “right direction”, so to speak, means that you’re accessing the internet… Oh no! Please, don’t fire me! The backspace key, it – it’s broken! Oy… I guess I’ll have to be really careful from here on out… So, anyways where was I? Oh yes, I was talking about the rise and fall of the beat in this song. The song ends rather abruptly and inconspicuously (I won’t use any more DJ examples for fear of sealing my fate) and kind of gives me the feeling that someone snatched something very valuable away from me such as Sam, my keyboard. While I agree with the concept of this ending, I think listeners would have been better served had there been a more significant fade away ending, perhaps with some percussive pads and/or heavy synth sounds prevailing for a measure or two afterwards. Well, even I’m starting to get dizzy with all this musical jargon so I’ll wrap things up here. One more thing is noteworthy though, and that is the lyrics co-written by Miriam Israeli and Ari Goldwag which preach immense hope and faith. Now it’s time to proceed onwards so I will rate this guaranteed hit 8.5 out of 10 stars.

Haboicher- This song is a hard rock expertly arranged by Leib Ya’akov Rigler whom I’ve usually associated with the orchestral genre of music but hey, there are times that people associate me with being a normal and functional member of society so whaddya know? I like the low part more than the high part which is your typical 8th Day tune (although I do appreciate the somewhat random substitution of a B for a Bmi at the end). Incidentally, Bentzi Marcus of 8th Day did compose this song which also features Yitzy Spinner contributing with background vocals. At 2:10 in there is a bass solo improvising on one of the refrains played throughout the song which is probably one of the first in Jewish music since Gabay’s Sim Shalom. Shortly thereafter, the Eye of The Tiger begins playing to accompany the high part (admit it, you’re all thinking that). I’m not sure if this will ever make it big but whatever the case may be, it’s a pretty solid song and I will give it 7.5 out of 10 stars.

B’Sheim Hashem- When I first heard this song in the audio sampler on Mostlymusic.com I was very pleasantly surprised as I was privy to this gem well before even Benny heard it. A good friend of mine, who humbly prefers to hide behind the cloak of anonymity, was heavily involved in the making of this gorgeous 3/4 although he’d also rather I don’t reveal the exact details of his participation. It’s just kind of cool that I heard it so many years ago and now it’s suddenly being sung by a professional singer with professional musicians. Speaking of the devil, Leib Ya’akov Rigler does it yet again with these sweet and to the point arrangements which I have to admit are much more appropriate than my own initial ones when I first played the song. The majority of the song consists of relaxingly delicate fingerpicking, mainly on an acoustic guitar. The second time around there is a nice simple trumpet playing and it’s probably Jim Hynes but may possibly be Crew (how long did it take you to figure that one out?). The Ma7 chord in the high part is clichéd but classy. One thing that was unexpected comes at a little bit after 4 minutes in when Benny suddenly modulates the song to a b5 higher and has the entire band join in for the first time. After a little while, the music once again subsides into fingerpicking and ends with a nice, albeit interesting chord progression. This song illustrates Benny’s ability to sing from the soul; something he no doubt inherited (to an extent) from his prestigious uncle. Marc Levine composed and also sings on the track which earns 8 out of 10 stars from me.

Maaleh Ani- Here we have another 8th day style song although this one is composed by Elimelech Blumstein. It’s quite obvious just from listening to this rock that it was arranged by a guitarist. Aryeh Kuntsler definitely earns my respect for these arrangements because unlike a lot of guitarists nowadays he’s actually also a musician. He’s not simply about shredding and power chords (although there’s no shortage of that in this song) as many famous guitarists tend to be. Ari Goldwag also lent his talent again with the background vocals and composition of the introduction. Will this be the next hit amongst Yeshiva bochurim? That remains the 16 trillion dollar question (see above for issues with this statement). If I had it my way it would simply be considered a filler song albeit a catchy one. Then again, if I had things my way I’d be playing in a professional band, would not be required to submit to the rigorous editing deemed necessary by the administrator of this website and 7-11 in Monsey would make their hot dog prices more coherent. Sorry, I’ve got writers block (and no it’s not a preexisting condition developed when I first started writing for JMR). No need to worry or fret though, the best is yet to come (i.e. musically). 6 out of 10 stars.

Shalom Aleichem- This song starts out with segments from what are arguably the two most common Shalom Aleichems sung on Shabbos night. Somehow I don’t think the lead voice of the first segment is actually a real soprano but it does the trick either way. I was able to perceive intuitively from the outset that this wasn’t going to be an old style song. It gradually transforms itself into quite a formidable techno/hora. Ari Goldwag composed the song with Ian Freitor taking the helm for the adequate arrangements. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the choir (under the leadership of Moshe Roth) which did a fantastic job in the introduction and throughout the song. Again, whether or not this song really takes off is the 16 tril – ok sorry, not that funny the second time. But you get the picture. Personally, I like this song a lot and I believe it has plenty of potential hence a rating (as of now) of 8.5 out of 10 stars from me.

Mamleches Kohanim- Something about this song reminds me of one of the songs from Benny’s first album though I can’t quite put my finger on it. It has a very slow and enjoyable tune which is sung expertly by Benny but I would still like to hear Avremel sing this one. Around 2:20 in the song launches into a remarkably powerful 4/4 rock ballad followed by a doubly remarkable guitar solo complete with overdubs executed presumably by Avi Singolda although it’s entirely possible Oz Noy and/or Aryeh Kuntsler did it. This is a great example of the point I mentioned above. If someone knows how to play a guitar musically without just shredding superfluously all the time they can convert it into one of the most soulful, expressive and dynamic instruments. Elimelech Blumstein composed this stunner with Ian Freitor once again doing a superb job of arranging the song. Something that did not sit right with me however ,was the G chord at 0:39 in. No offense Ian, but it’s a little bland for my taste. Speaking of chords the song ends off on a very interesting one which is just a bit too long and complex for this article. It sort of fades away and leaves the listener suspended in mid-air… 9 out of 10 stars.

Ivdu- The proverbial listener is then brought crashing down to earth with what is probably my favorite song on the album. It starts off with a very long and protracted introduction which may be bordering on overkill but I still approve. It contains a chord progression which contextually, at least, sounds ultra-funky. The song itself has a contagious bouncy disco beat that sounds like something Avremi G cooked up. But as has been taking place at an alarmingly high rate recently, I’m wrong – again! Yaron Gershovsky, who is best known for his world class piano skills lends his vast musical expertise in this instant hit composed by Benny himself and Yoni Eliav. A highlight of the song for me occurs at around 2:50 in when the keyboardist (either Yaron or possibly Ian Freitor) executes a perfectly balanced synthesizer solo not too insipid yet not containing a surplus of pizzazz. It doesn’t sound incredibly complicated to figure out or even to play but it has the main quality of what a solo is all about – improvisation. If this song doesn’t make it to the top of chasuna playlists I’ll voluntarily stop writing for JMR! 9.5 out of 10 stars.

Dor Acharon- This has a very simple 4/4 oom-pah beat with a tune and overall feel reminiscent of old M.B.D. dinner music. Composed by Elimelech Blumstein and arranged by Ian Freitor it features a keyboardist emulating a mandolin in the background quite accurately, I might add. This is one of those “Niggun Neshomaesque” rare breed of songs which can be played over and over a myriad of times without the average listener resorting to iPod and/or computer smashing (i.e. if they haven’t already done so from reading my articles). I’m not sure I really dig the ending too much which takes place in a rather abrupt fashion. I feel the intro should’ve been played once more before the song ended. I know it’s clichéd but it would’ve left the listener with a feeling of the song being resolved. Then again, it may have been done intentionally to encourage repetition of the song. I would venture to say the latter was the motivation of Ian. 9 out of 10 stars.

Vahavioisim- Is this rap I hear? No, thank goodness Jewish music hasn’t crossed that barrier just yet. What we do have here is Jewish music toeing the line with a watered down R&B Soul Ballad, if you will, one that would make Mo Kiss and the Kol Noar Boys Choir foam at the mouth. Yitzy Waldner composed the song and somehow I’m not very inclined to think he got it from his Rebbe. Of course that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all but it should paint a clearer picture of the song for you. I do like the tune and the music although I don’t think it matches as far as the style is concerned. I think maybe a simpler ballad would’ve been just fine but nonetheless Ian Freitor once again illustrates his musical prowess in this song. He also deserves credit for coordinating with Yitzy Spinner (who sings the background vocals) and having him overdub his vocals to form an Emi9. Speaking of singing, has anyone noticed that I haven’t focused enough on Benny? It seems that I have musical ADD when it comes to writing. Anyways, Benny demonstrates his ability to run the gamut by singing this potentially controversial song which as such earns a rating of 7 out of 10 stars from me.

Dawn of Moshiach- Yaron Gershovsky begins this catchy song by accompanying Benny pianistically (Bug off spellcheck, I like the word!) before it switches to a decidedly funky disco for the majority of the song. Elimelech Blumstein and Ian Freitor are once again featured while Yitzy Spinner contributes yet again with background vocals. The words, which are found in Haggadah Shel Pesach convey a powerful and inspirational message which is briefly, yet poignantly explained on the jacket cover and I quote verbatim: “Moshiach’s dawn will bring not only a brighter future, but a brighter past; for then we will look back and see how everything was good. The darkness was really light, and the day was even brighter than we had realized. So please, bring it on!” Basically, it’s expounding on the popular adage of hindsight is always 20/20 (except apparently, in the case of American voters). The song has various flavors contained within including but not limited to Yitzy Spinner, Benny Friedman’s first album and even if only for a short moment Matisyahu. I’m too lazy to find the exact time of this last one so I challenge all of my readers to find it and post the answer in the comments section. One thing that is beyond me is the glaring lack of slap bass throughout the song especially where the music clearly warrants it! I really don’t have an answer for that one but who am I to argue with a great musical talent like Ian Freitor? All in all this definitely is hit-making material and I expect it will become one; hence a rating of 8.5 out of 10 stars from me.

Berachamim- This is a beautiful yet original sounding song composed by Ari Goldwag and arranged by Ian Freitor as a calming yet powerful 16 beat ballad. I can just imagine Avraham Fried singing the high part, his voice breaking at certain points. However, it’s not fair that I should be comparing the two especially when it’s not as if Benny was awful. No, quite the contrary he sang more than adequately. Yitzy Spinner is yet again featured as a backup vocalist in this song and Ari Goldwag also sings some verses. There isn’t too much more praise I can heap on this song as it gets a 9 out of 10 stars rating from me.

There are many people out there who insist that every time they hear Benny Friedman they can’t help but compare him with his uncle, myself included. Of those people many are naysayers and claim that he’s playing second fiddle to his more talented uncle. I have one word to say to that which I have been holding onto just for an occasion such as this: Pah! Is the greatest musician in the world anywhere close in talent to Dovid Hamelech or even L’havdil, Beethoven? No they aren’t, but does that mean that they don’t have any talent? Of course not! The same is true in this situation. Benny has a very loyal following of fans that if anything, is more diverse than Avraham Fried’s.  They are both extremely talented in their own unique ways. While this album will most likely not have the same explosive impact on the Jewish music world as did Benny’s first one (there aren’t any No Lyrics Niggun caliber songs), there are still plenty of quality songs to go around. I will rate this album 8 out of 10 stars and if you haven’t already purchased the CD I would strongly recommend that you do so by visiting either http://www.mostlymusic.com/yesh-tikvah.html or your local Judaica store if you prefer the old fashioned method. As always, your comments, questions and suggestions are more than welcome below. Your criticisms are also welcomed but be aware that I will not tolerate chutzpah!!!

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Benny Friedman’s Yesh Tikva is out and it’s easily one of the most anticipated albums of the year. Alongside Yossi Green’s 8th Note, his first album was in my opinion the best in the last 5 years, so he did raise the bar very high from the very start. The big question is if this album is as good as the first, and although I usually leave the answer to the end, the answer is no – the first was better, more groovy.

But the more important question is not whether this album is better, worse or as good as the first – the question is if the music is good. So here we go.

Yesh Tikva – Benny released not long ago the single Mi Shemaamin Lo Mefached and this song follows the same concept. It’s in Hebrew, folksy and I specially like the subtleness of the bridge in 2:22. It’s a cute song; the ending was poor. ****

Haboicher – I would rather choose this song as the album’s opener. Energetic, original and in line with Benny’s style. It’s always nice to see Spinner doing the vocals – I’m a big fan of him – and Benny nailed it with the modulation note in 2:07 and with the subsequent improvisational skills. *****

Beshem – A powerful, subtle composition, this song is what I label “alternative JM” style. I’m happy to see Benny going for it and also letting the composer sing, which adds to the song’s authenticity. Rigler’s arrangement is perfect  - actually, all is perfect until the modulation, when Benny goes for the higher octaves. I think that was the wrong decision – I would keep the mellow, low key feel of this song until the end. That’s a common problem in Jewish Music – the lack of restraint (think Eli Gerstner) and the urge to rock every song to its limit. Lipa’s Achron Choviv (Meimka DeLipa) is a rare example of a song done with the proper restraint, when Lipa did let the song shine without too much screaming. Benny overdid it here but the song is excellent. ****

Maale has a unique first part and a lot of room for improvisation; its not a blockbuster but a very pleasant and well-rounded song. I thought Benny’s vocals were fantastic here, specially in the composition’s first part. Kunstler’s acoustic guitar-centric arrangement really helped set the mood of this song. ****

Shalom Aleichem – interesting intro, with two traditional Friday-night tunes. I like this song a lot, the only throwback is the fact that MBD came out with a solid Shalom Aleichem not long ago so it’s a little difficult to give these lyrics another chance. But if you do, you will enjoy the song’s great vocals, energy and arrangement. ****

Mamleches is a very simple catchy slow song –  but I do feel like the composition reaches no real momentum; it seems to go in circles, if you know what I mean. I think that it would’ve been smart to a add a bridge niggun to create a more solid structure. As it is, the song is missing something. Musically speaking the song is well arranged, and the choir is sublime.. ****

Ivdu – a good mid tempo song, the first part is not really original however it blends well with the second part, which I’m almost 100% sure it was the part of the song composed by Benny (whoever knows the facts please speak up!), as it really sounds like his groove (the song was co-composed with Y. Eliav, who probably did the 1st part). I felt Benny could have done a better job in the vocals and I would specially point out that would be smart to switch to Mizrachi pronunciation somewhere in the middle of the song in order to change the No No play to Na Na. As it is, the No No shtick gets overused. ***

Dor Acharon is a song I don’t get. I did understand what Benny was going for in the other songs, and although they are not really blockbusters it’s clear he was trying to recreate the unique sound he successfully created in his debut album. However this is a Hillel Palai-ish midtempo song like the ones that  were sung in each and every album for a few years after Yeedle’s hit song Ato Bonim- it was “in” then but now is not. So it’s like going back on time, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the composition is very weak – I see no connection between the words and tune, and the “dor acharon” repetition doesn’t makes sense to me. Add that to very simplistic vocal arrangement and harmonies, plus the long 5 minute count and you have the full picture: this is a pointless song and should’ve never been here. *

Vahaviosim is the album’s grooviest song, a beautiful piece by Waldner, who in my opinion is today JM’s best composer after YG. This type of song showcases Benny’s strengths and is to me on par with what we heard in his first album. Freitor’s arrangement is superb, one of the best I’ve heard lately, and the vocal arrangement concept is interesting but could have been a little more subtle, and this lack of subtleness is costly in the song’s end, which is terrible. Except for the ending, this is a 5 star song. Very well done! *****

Dawn of Mashiach is a risk taking song. Very demanding for Benny, he really does his very best to bring this song to life. Although it’s not my style, the song is good and well-rounded, with special mention to Spinner’s genius vocal arrangement in 3:46 and Benny’s Matisyahu-ish freestyling – great idea. But the song drags and is too long, 5:40. *****

Berachamim is a song that was released as a free single some year and a half ago. I’m a big fan of Ari Goldwag’s slow compositions, going back to Ethan Leifer’s album which featured two of Ari’s masterpieces and Ari’s own albums – I pretty much bought all of his musical works just for his slow songs. Berchamin is a blockbuster song, from beginning to end, and Ari was smart to do it together with Benny, who brought star power vocals and transformed this song into a classic. Ari’s vocals are not bad, but with Benny this song went to the sky. I can’t give enough compliments to the song’s overall production, arrangements and vocals. *****

Bottom Line: Although not a home run like his debut album, Benny’s second CD is very good and with great production value. Until very recently I always had Benny and Lipa as the two strongest innovators in JM, two singers who push the envelope and try to deliver new material and originallity. Lipa is clearly ahead, at the top of his game and not afraid of doing every single idea that comes to his mind (see my review of his latest album). But Benny is also up there too and this album was worth my money.

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