Building an album is an art in and of itself. I’ve got albums in my collection that have great songs up and down the tracklist, but don’t make for an enjoyable listen all the way through. And then there are albums that have only one or two hits, but there’s a certain geshmak about it – and you listen to it again and again.
Lipa’s Keinehora is, in my opinion, a davar mushlam – that rare perfect combination of genres, themes, shtick and tunes. A Poshiter Yid is, in my opinion, similar to the former type of album – great songs, but maybe it’s the preponderance for shtick that takes away from the enjoyment. You see, Lipa has a pile of talent, which he can easily allow to get out of hand. For example, his voice is best when he’s gentle and sweet. He doesn’t have the power of, say, MBD in his prime. So he needs to choose when to go up to the upper reaches of his power and range. He is also unbelievably creative, and is a Yiddish wordmeister of the highest caliber. But if he’s too creative, it can take away from the emotional appeal; and if he’s over-wordy, the song becomes almost un-singable.
(I know, this is supposed to be about Me’Imka D’Lipa – the brilliant new album. We’re getting there.) So I’ve been really happy to hear that Lipa’s pulled off another coup – a phenomenal balance between his creativity, lyrics, range, emotional expression and humor. To say nothing of his ability to pull brilliant punches at his detractors with witty, sensible and knowledgeable messages. (At the same time, we have to thank his detractors – they were the inspiration behind songs like Yener, A Poshiter Yid, Hora Yes, Vus Tut Dir Vi, Al Tudin Chavercha, and more. Thanks guys! With your continued push against this guy, I’m sure we’ll see more topical lyrics. Keep it up – and Lipa, you too!)
Splash: (*****) It didn’t take me long to find something to appreciate – I love the splash-type percussion, along with the breathy sax in the intro, and snazzy piano interspersed, with some solid rhythm guitar. Besides that, a perfect synthesis between the hartzig vocals and arrangement. The lyrical concept in this number really resonated with me – lately, I’ve been thinking a lot of how much our society surrounds us with messages that are antithetical to a pure mind, to say the least. It takes someone like Lipa to have the courage to say this outright – and inspire us to stick to our guns. My favorite track on the album.
Chosson Domeh LeMelech: (****) We all know this one’s going to be a wedding hit. Lipa is confident enough to actually write that in his liner notes. While this Mizrachi-styled smoker is not my favorite on the album, it’s good. And I love that Lipa went to the professionals to get it arranged. The authentic feel is felt in the tight percussion, Mediterranean strings arrangement, and the awesome makdama solo. The choir is made up of Israelis – which, while I obviously understand the idea, the fact is that the choir on the rest of the albums has a much better sound. Also, we could have used some ululating instead of the wailing at 3:40. I think it would have a better jive with the vibe, if ya know what I mean.
Me’Imka DeLipa: (****) This sweet waltz starts with somber (but fresh) English horns and a solid men’s choir. Kudos to Yisrael Lamm on the fine arrangement. The lyrics hit home, with some classic Chassidic quotes scattered throughout. The philosophical depth that Lipa tosses in here is really refreshing – with a candid message of “Do nothing by rote!” Again, another complete creation.
Mi Chochom: (****) A folksy little tune with a nice hook. The plaintive arrangement gets spiced up with the false ending, which is followed by faster tempo and some creative vocal play on the multi-tiered finale. I give it four stars, because even though it’s not in any way out of this world, it’ll probably turn your ear towards it due to the pleasant presentation.
The Language of Music: (***) A good concept gets a typical tune. Oh well, you can’t score on ‘em all. The tune reminds me of MBD’s Baruch Hashem (a Lipa creation), which I found great on the words, but a bit lacking in the composition.
Melech Malchei Hamlachim: (**) This song may get purged from my Ipod. The slow-pop sound doesn’t resonate with my taste at all – this is the kind of song that makes me want to kill the speakers in the shopping mall. The tune itself is decent, but the vocal shtick does nothing to showcase the words. Some may like it, since it’s in a style that hasn’t really been used in Jewish music. But it ain’t for me.
Ich Hob Gechapt: (****) We’re back in business with this fun-filled klezmer tune. Yossi Green and Lipa are joined by a fresh-sounding boys choir, and it sounds like all three had a great time putting this together. Fact is that the vocal arrangements are plenty of fun, and John Tendy plays it up as befitting a klezmer tune with his classy clarinet solo. The message is cute and on key. (I love the pics of Lil Lipa and Tiny Yossi in the liner notes. Yossi, if you’re reading this, you had very pinchable cheeks.) An aside – I wonder how many of Lipa’s former melamdim listen to his music…
Mizmor Lesoida: (***1/2) The chorus of this up-tempo song is a bit heavy on my ears; more noise than music. However, I’m sure it will find plenty of popularity anyway. In any case, I like what they did in general with a song that could have easily sunk straight down. The intro – and its use as a bridge later in the song – is nicely thought out. Decent guitar solo in the middle by Yanky Katina. As for the toichen itself: The liner calls it “songs being obliterated besides Mizmor Lesoda”, and I like Lipa’s explanation of the obscure Medrash. However, the word “obliterated” doesn’t translate for the word “beteilin” – an accurate translation would be “nullified”, which fits in nicely with Lipa’s explanation. Nullified imples that they will still exist; but be somewhat beside the point. “Obliterated” on the other hand would mean “won’t exist at all”.
V’anpaha Nehirin: (***) This pretty track could have easily been slid onto a vintage MBD. The arrangement will please old-schoolers. The fact remains, the song is more of a filler – albeit a good one.
Vus Tut Dir Vi: (*****) Lipa seems to revel in his jazzy stuff. And here he matches up. Great song, with cute comments from Michoel Schnitzler tossed in for humor’s sake. Here’s a song where the shtick fits in well, and comes off well, too. My one critique is that the horns in the middle might have worked nice as a sax solo. It’s nice, but could have been better.
Ayei: (*****) A smashing tune, sung with the king himself, MBD. This techno piece was engineered to perfection by Ilya Lishinski, and despite the fact that I’m no fan of techno, I really like this song. The lyrics are among my favorite pesukim in Tehillim, for the following reason: Chassidim ask, why does the posuk say that in the Heavens, G-d is “there”, but in the pit, “Here You are”? And the answer given is: If you think you’re climbing up to Heaven, Hashem is only going to be further from you. But if you’re in “the pit”, i.e. recognize your lowliness and remain humble, then, “here You are!” Hashem is always with the humble. I always loved that message. Back to the song, Lipa and MBD play well off each other, and Shloime Cohen’s sax solo gives it a solid third dimension.
Chaim: (***) Another classic Jewish music song. This one has more depth and feeling than V’anpaha Nehirin, possibly due to the personal nature of the song written in memory of the composer’s father. But besides for the well orchestrated arrangement, I like a particular detail in the mixing: when they bring the child soloist, his voice is placed behind Lipa’s – a refreshing perspective. It combines the voices, rather than having the high pitched child’s voice overpower Lipa’s. And BTW, another tour de force for the choir.
A Git Vort: (***) In this song, the hook is better than the song. I love the concept and the message. But the disco style and fairly flat tune don’t pick it up much. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t like disco that much, and the arrangement is flat out trance. An organic instrument may have helped things out here.
Hora Yes, Loshon Hora No: (****) When I saw the word play in the title of the song, I thought it wasn’t going to work. But he pulls it off well. This snazzy song has plenty of shtick – starting with off with the kazoo, and continuing with the Chaseedish style rap, and let’s not forget the Yiddish/English/Ivrit hybrid going on throughout the chorus. But it’s a good song, and again Moishe Kraus scores on the choir. And color me crazy, but I think Avi Piamenta’s flute would have made this song brilliant.
Acharon, Acharon Chaviv: (***) This is a nice song, but I think it has a bit too much electronica for a slow song. The concept is something I think many of us think of. The idea is similar to the Medrash that tells us that Mosh Rabbeinu was jealous of the last generation before Moshiach – even though they were so low, they still hang on to Torah and Mitzvos with self-sacrifice. (If you’d like a deep and unbelievable explanation of the various eras, and the inner reason of the golus lasting this long, check our R’ Chaim Miller’s “Rambam – 13 Principles of Faith on Prophecy”, Lesson 17. Phenomenal stuff.)
Me’imka DeLipa in English: (***) This version of the song suffers from two drawbacks: It’s too fast, and the English doesn’t rhyme. So it comes across as a last-minute toss-in, rather than a thought-through piece of art. But I like the arrangement.
Tachlis: Four and a half stars. In my humble opinion, the totality of this album (including the awesome personal liner notes and cover art – possibly one of the best liner yet produced in Jewish music. Its only fault is that it doesn’t list the musicians – only the soloists.) lifts it past A Poshiter Yid. Whether or not I think it’s better than Keinehora, we’ll see with time. I find it hard to rate an album with five stars immediately – but a good album only gets better with every listen. This is a great album. You get your money’s worth with virtually every Lipa offering, and this is no different; and it has the additional advantage that it has songs for every type of listener. In addition, Lipa’s greatest skill, his ability to take a posuk or a maamar chazal and display and explain it in a most enjoyable way, is in top form. The album certainly has its ups and its downs, but all the way through, Me’imka D’Lipa is a classy, fun and enjoyable CD.