It’s the Three Weeks again, which means it’s time for more a cappella music!
I have found that there are three main varieties of Jewish a cappella: 1) “Mainstream” or “pop” a cappella, which can range from barbershop-quartet-style groups (Beatachon), to modern groups who could star on NBC’s The Voice (The Maccabeats, Lev Tahor), to groups and albums that can only exist in studios with lots of computers (AKAPella, Six13, Ari Goldwag’s Soul albums, and others); 2) “Kumzitz” albums, which typically feature a soloist and a large backup choir (e.g., A Kumzitz in the Rain or Around the Campfire by Miami); and 3) “Chassidishe” a cappella—think Meshorerim Choir, Farbreng by Berry Weber, or the Chassidishe Oitzrois collection—which usually feature chassidishe singers (duh), very little from the digital effects department, and zero beatboxing or fake rhythm sections.
My Father’s Zemiros, Avraham Fried’s first contribution to the a cappella genre, falls squarely into category 3. This album features Avremel with his sons, brothers, and nephews, singing the songs which they remember from the Shabbos table of Avraham’s father, R’ Yaakov Moshe Friedman z”l. The album was originally meant to remain a private family project, to be given out at family simchas and other events, but soon the Friedman family was inundated with requests for copies. Eventually, they released the album in 2009 through the Yad L’Shliach foundation, the tzedakah organization run by the Friedman family which provides funds to Chabad shluchim around the world. After being available as a download-only album for nearly five years, Yad L’Shliach released the album this past sefirah for sale in Jewish Music outlets everywhere.
Getting to the album itself, it’s an absolute treat to listen to, especially if you are a fan of chassidishe music in general. Avraham himself is the cornerstone of the album (understandably), but it’s obvious that this is an insanely talented family, even beyond the Friedman nephews we have come to know and love over the last decade or so (to the best of my knowledge, Benny Friedman and 8th Day don’t even appear on this album). Autotune is nowhere to be found (yes!), and the vocals carry that unmistakable Fried(man) ta’am which make their voices so instantly recognizable. Interestingly, the Friedmans sing in a pure chassidish accent (i.e., וּ is pronounced “ee”, not “oo”) on this album, not the Lubavitch/Litvish havara we’re used to from Avraham’s other albums.
The song selection (sorry, no track-by-track analysis this time) tilts squarely chassidish, as is to be expected. Considering that the songs are from Avraham’s childhood, don’t expect any Yossi Green compositions on this album. On the other hand, even if you’re a pure cold-blooded Litvak (like me), you will definitely recognize some of the songs on the album. For example, Track 6 (“Niggun Gaaguim”) will be familiar to most people as the niggun which commonly follows “Yedid Nefesh” in many shuls, and Track 5 (“Baruch Kel Elyon”, also known as “Kel Adon”) was featured on the first Philharmonic Experience album in 1989, among other places. As you might expect, many of the songs on the album are Shabbos themed, but not all. Track 1 (“Mimizrach”) could fit any time of week, and Track 12 is a rendition of “Maoz Tzur”.
In summary, the Friedman family’s private project is now out of the underground, and if you buy it, you can help support shluchim all over the world. If your concept of “Three Weeks music” begins with the Maccabeats and ends with AKAPella, then My Father’s Zemiros isn’t for you. However, if you want a heimish (haimish?), professionally produced listening experience for the Three Weeks which features the industry’s absolute best, then you should join the Friedman family’s reenactment of their father’s Shabbos table.