Fans of nostalgia will enjoy Benny’s new album, Bnei Heichala. In a world of albums that exhibit collections and medleys, this one is unique. It seems to me that the decision to pull particular tunes was made to draw from as wide a swath as possible, so you’ve got everything here: Niggunim (hailing from Chabad, Vizhnitz, Breslov and Bobov) and children’s songs; Sefardic and classic; and covers from the likes of R’ Dovid Werdyger, MBD, Fried and others. Pretty broad collection, if you ask me.
I would be remiss if I’d not mention Benny’s vocals – he stays within his strengths throughout; sweet, but strong – no wandering into territory that is not his. Perfect control, appropriate emoting, and full-bodied sound. You go, Benny!
The album, as any album of medleys, has its ups and downs. On the up-side, is the general quality of songs. I thoroughly enjoyed the revisitation of R’ Dovid Werdyger’s He Elokeini (from Melitzer Oneg Shabbos), and of course, the four classic Chabad niggunim (2 x Azamer Bishvachin, Hu Elokeinu and the moving title track, a long-time favorite). I got a real blast from the past with the rendition of Martin Davidson’s Eishet Chayil – for the life of me I’m trying to recall the name of the band that number was played on! In any case, the only thing that drives me a bit batty is the placement of Raza D’Shabbos after the Sefardi Lecha Dodi – the latter song, a rockin’ piece (remember Piamenta’s version of it on 1990), is slowed to a snail’s pace and loses its flavor. Chaval.
The pieces were organized well, with the obvious chronologic movement from pre-Shabbos (excellent English adaptation of R’ Yom Tov Ehrlich’s Shabbos Kodesh) to post-Shabbos (the later, rock, section of B’motzoei Yom Menucha calls to mind Diaspora’s version of that beautiful Breslover nigun).
The downs are more subtle. It seems like the record was rushed a bit, as Yedidim’s basic harmonies add very little, and we could have used more of Benny’s overdubs, which are pretty rare as it is. Less subtle is the inexplicable percussive beat on Miami’s Menucha Vesimcha – Benny’s straight vocals just don’t click with the funky arrangement. And then there’s the unrehearsed choir at the beginning of the aforementioned B’Motzoei Yom Menucha – what gives?
In any case, Avremi G’s work here – utilizing a large mix of instrumentation – is crisp and modern, but gives due respect to – even friendly reminders of – the originals, when applicable. He uses the brass section as an extension to the strings, allowing Benny to carry the bulk of the tune, but never lacking in backing. I loved the rock chords and drums on Azamer #2, though admittedly, R’ Hillel Paritcher would probably raise an eyebrow had he heard it this way. Another great moment is his delightful arrangement of Time to Say Good Shabbos. His full orchestral sound, emphasized by Benny’s smooth vocals, gives it color it had never had before. While I typically enjoy the delicate timbre of the French horn, I think Avremi may have overused it a bit. Tachlis, thankfully, we’ve come a long way since the mind-numbing simplicity of the arrangements of the likes of the Around the Year series.
If you’re looking for chiddushim in music, this ain’t for you. But if you’re looking for a sweet, laid-back record hailing back to simpler JM times, run! Run, I say! Yeah, pick up a copy forthwith.