Benny Friedman’s “Kol Haneshama Sheli”


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Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s be very clear as to what KHS is not.  Yesh Tikvah—both the album as a whole and the song in particular—was one-of-a-kind.  Even Benny himself knows that the insane popularity and appeal of that album does not come along often, and he said as much to our very own SplashNews at the album premiere.  However, KHS has its own unique appeal which makes it special.  The 12 tracks were composed by 12 different people, including (among others) Yitzy Waldner, Ari Goldwag, and Shmuel Marcus, so there is something different about each song.  Ian Freitor handles most of the music production, and Sruly Meyer is credited as the producer of the album along with Benny himself.

Track 1, “Toda” (composed by Sruly Green, lyrics by Miriam Israeli and Eli Friedman): Benny starts off his new album with a salsa-disco with original words by the multi-lingual queen of Jewish lyrics, Miriam Israeli, the lyricist behind “Yesh Tikvah” and “Am Echad”.  The lyrics, which switch between Hebrew and English, describe Benny’s feelings of gratitude towards Hashem for everything in his life.

Track 2, “Im Ein Ani Li” (written and composed by Robert Fitoussi and Yitzchok Bitton):  This old-school rock song is an almost note-for-note cover a song which first appeared in 1982, on Isaac Bitton/Raya Mehemna’s album Songs for a Brother.  Bentzy Marcus adapted this version of the song for the album, and worked in a violin solo by Chris Woods which is regretfully too short.

Track 3, “Ribono Shel Olam” (composed by Yitzy Waldner): It’s 2014, so you knew that Yitzy Waldner would show up somewhere on this album.  This slow ballad includes orchestral arrangements by Leib Yaakov Rigler and backup vocals by the Shira Choir.  Its lyrics are from the tefilah before Torah reading on yomim tovim, and the melody really shows off the capabilities of Benny’s voice.

Track 4, “Fulfill Your Tefilah” (written and composed by Shmuel Bitton, additional lyrics by Eli Friedman): This techno/disco track shares some musical styling with “Yesh Tikvah” (for example, they begin with the same synth voice), but this one is in English.  This hopping dance song uses some interesting rhyme combinations which don’t work with every accent (fulfill your/every tefilah, answer your/bakasha, we all know/dor vadoram Yisroel/hear our kol), but Benny manages to pull it off and make it sound natural.

Track 5, “Al Tira” (composed by Yisroel Zev Rechnitz):  Another slow ballad, this song is arranged by the one and only Yisroel Lamm (of course it was, there’s a French horn in the brass section), and the full orchestral arrangement shines.  The Shira Choir provides backup vocals again, and Eli Gerstner recorded and mixed the track in his studio.

Track 6, “Kol Haneshama”, feat. 8th Day (composed by Shmuel Marcus): The title track of this album is a family production, featuring Benny’s cousins Bentzy and Shmuel Marcus, known to the rest of us as 8th Day.  This Latin-style hora also features an English stanza where the Marcus Bros.’ influence is obvious.  All instruments in the recording are played by arranger Eli Lishinsky.

Track 7, “L’hisaneg” (composed by Ari Goldwag): What is it about Shabbos zemiros in particular, and “Ma Yedidus” in particular, which seems to send themselves so easily to waltzes?  Taking the question a step further, what is it about 3/4-ballad Shabbos zemiros being composed by Ari Goldwag?  Combinig this song with “Kah Ribon” and “Menucha”, Ari is well on his way to his own Greatest Hits album of Shabbos waltzes.

Track 8, “Bum Bum” (composed by Elimelech Blumstein and Ari Goldwag): If there is going to be a successor to “Yesh Tikvah” that comes from this album, “Bum Bum” is it.  This track is easily my favorite song on the album—I can easily see it existing side by side with MBD’s “Ma’aminim” as the “rock the house” song at the end of chasunahs, or as a finale to Benny’s concerts.  It’s a kind of surfer-rock/pop-rock blend (feel free to disagree with me on the definition of those terms) with a strong guitar part by Avi Singolda, while Yitzy Spinner handles the backup vocals.

Track 9, “Hamalach” (composed by Baruch Levine): Baruch Levine joins the composer parade!  This song, which sounds inspired by the old London School of Jewish Song version of “Hamalach”—slow waltz, slightly jazzy, mostly the same lyrics—adds in a stanza with the passuk, “Hiney lo yanum v’lo yishan Shomer Yisroel” (“The Guardian of Israel never slumbers or sleeps”), which seems very appropriate.  First of all, both verses are recited in the bedtime Shema.  Second of all, I am thinking that the addition of this line into the song may have been inspired by the events in Israel over the last year amid the obvious hashgacha pratis which guarded the Jewish population during Operation Protective Edge.  I don’t know, just my theory.

Track 10, “Yesod V’Shoresh” (composed by Pinky Weber): Let’s learn some chassidus together, shall we?  The words to this upbeat, bass-heavy rock song are from the Tanya, and describe the basic foundation (the “yesod v’shoresh”) of Judaism: to elevate the spiritual over the physical.

Track 11, “Essa Einai”, feat. Shlomo Simcha (composed by Rivky Brachfield): This song, my favorite slow song on the album, was composed by a twelve-year old girl, Rivky Brachfield of Toronto, who composed this song in memory of her grandfather.  Benny is joined on the track by Rivky’s fellow Torontonian Shlomo Simcha (my favorite pure singer in all of Jewish Music, if I may say so myself), as well as Tzvi Blumenfeld of the Yedidim Choir singing backup.   Benny’s and Shlomo Simcha’s voices blend together perfectly in a way very few artists could.  I really hope this song becomes popular—we need more variety in our chuppah songs and dinner music sets, and it would be a shame to see a great song like this fall through the cracks.

Track 12, “Rak Beyachad” (composed by Eli Klein): I hope you weren’t thinking that we would make it through twelve tracks without an “achdus”-themed song.  The man who launched the trend more than two years ago brings it full circle with this driving rock song as the perfect coda to his third full original album.

To conclude: Kol Haneshama Sheli is not Yesh Tikvah—not by a long shot.  I almost feel bad for Benny—Yesh Tikvah was such an impossible act to follow, that the inevitable sequel is bound to disappoint some people.  I’m here to say: don’t be disappointed.  Kol Haneshama Sheli stands just fine on its own merits, and that should be more than good enough for anyone.

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