I started caring about Jewish Music in earnest when I was in middle school, and the hottest singers among my circle of friends were not the MBDs and Avraham Frieds of the world—we were Miami Boys’ Choir junkies. Nachum Stark, Oded Karity, and Yitzy Spinner—and, of course, Ari Goldwag—were our muses, inspiring sing-offs, debates, and arguments about the relative virtues and merits of our favorite singers.
Fast-forward twenty years. Ari Goldwag is all grown up now. He has composed and arranged songs for eleven of his own albums—including his solo albums (Lishuas’cha Kivinu and Am Echad, among others), the Sheves Achim and Sheves Chaveirim albums, and 2012’s A Cappella Soul (in addition to his myriad shiurim and Torah lectures—available at TorahAnytime.com and at Ari’s website).
A Cappella Soul 2 is Ari’s latest offering. Like its predecessor, Soul 2 is a sefirah-style compilation of many of Ari’s recent (and some not-so-recent) hits, with a few original songs thrown in for good measure. In fact, many of the songs use the exact same lead vocal track as their counterparts on the instrumental albums, only the instruments have been replaced with Ari’s voice. Ari himself performs nearly all of the vocals on the album, including the “bass” section (G-d bless computers) and the rhythm section.
All songs composed by Ari Goldwag unless otherwise indicated.
Track 1, “Borchu” (Composed by Moshe Dov Goldwag and Ari Goldwag): Soul 2 begins with a new song—an a cappella disco which features Ari’s son, Moshe Dov (who was first featured on Sheves Chaveirim). “Borchu” kind of reminds me of “Sheves Achim” (from the 2011 album Sheves Achim 2) in terms of its rhythm and phrasing. Moshe Dov and Ari share the vocal work on this track, and the father/son duo works well (we’ll return to this theme later).
Track 2, “Aishes Chayil” (Originally appeared on Simcha B’Libi): Ari reaches back into the catalog, remixing this beautiful ballad from 2004. After sefirah I may have to go back and re-listen to the original—it’s a much nicer song than I remember it being, and it was definitely overlooked at the time it came out (what were we even listening to? Shwekey’s Yedid and….).
Track 3, “Am Echad” (Lyrics by Miriam Israeli, originally appeared on Am Echad): Song of the Year, 2013, sefirah style! This is the same recording as the original we all know and love, just with the music replaced by vocals—if you even notice.
Track 4, “Hinei Ma Tov”: This new track, a slow barbershop-style song, is a nice addition to the album. I enjoyed the arrangements to the high part, which really shows off the versatility of Ari’s voice.
Track 5, “Shallow Waters” (Composed by and lyrics by Dror Kivodi, originally appeared on Lishuas’cha Kivinu): The first time I heard this song (as someone was blasting it out of his dorm room), a repairman was walking down the hall in the yeshiva dorm—he paused, listened to the song for a minute, and asked who the artist was. When informed that the singer was a former child star who had just released his first solo album, he nodded and said, “He’s going to go somewhere—he’s got a way with the lyrics.” This version is completely redone, and still carries the same demanding message as it did in 2003—understand the meaning of your life, your actions, and your words, and your life will be much more fulfilling.
Track 6, “Min Hameitzar”, feat. Benny Friedman (Originally appeared on Am Echad): Why, that’s Benny Friedman’s entrance music! I knew he was around here somewhere! A remix of the hit from Am Echad, this song is probably the most singable ballad on the album in terms of kumzitz/kedusha/wedding-style popularity.
Track 7, “Nodeh”, feat. Moshe Dov Goldwag (Originally appeared on Am Echad): The father-son duo returns with a sefardi-style hora, complete with the same Israeli accents and copious amounts of Autotune which accompanied it on Am Echad. At this point, Moshe Dov could probably do an entire album by himself, and no one would complain—he’s a very talented young man, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from him before his voice changes.
Track 8, “Zeh Hazman”: This new track is a freilach-style dance number, specially composed for sefirah. The lyrics call on us to pay attention to the mitzvah of “V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha”, which is obviously a special point of emphasis this time of year.
Track 9, “Ribono” (Originally appeared on Ohavti by Shea Rubenstein): This was actually the first a cappella track which Ari ever released (back in 2009). This song, which was originally remixed for the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, takes its lyrics from the tefilla for shmiras halashon which has become popular in recent years. It’s really a beautiful song, and it was an unexpected surprise to find it on this album.
Track 10, “I’m Imperfect” (Originally appeared on Am Echad): Well, nobody’s perfect, right? This is the track from Am Echad which details the growth process that each and every person goes through—as Ari says in the song’s bridge: “Moving up the mountain/I think we can agree/Nobody is perfect, that’s how/It’s supposed to be.”
Track 11, “Shalom Aleichem & Yesh Tikvah Medley”, feat. Moshe Dov Goldwag (Lyrics also by Miriam Israeli, originally appeared on Yesh Tikvah by Benny Friedman): Ari’s two insanely popular compositions from Benny’s best-seller get the a cappella treatment here. Moshe Dov returns for another appearance as well. Let’s just say this about this track: There aren’t too many songs that can get my daughter’s entire kindergarten carpool singing at the top of their lungs on the way to school. Well done, Ari.
In summary, Ari Goldwag’s second contribution to the a cappella world is well worth your time. Actually, a lot of you have already come to this conclusion without my help, as it has become apparent that Ari’s music is taking over the world. Only a little more than a week until Lag Baomer!