Best Album: Taamu – Benny Friedman. Not even close. This album is great for a couple reasons, notably because Benny’s voice is extraordinary (have any one else singing most of these songs and they’re “nice”, but not brilliant) and the song selection is so good (have Benny sing any other songs and his star does not shine so brightly…). It’s this truly superb combination of Benny’s voice and the album’s composition that really blew me away, and that made this my album of the year. Heck, has there ever been another album that referenced Likkutei Sichos in the liner notes? Awesome!
Best Song: Yaavducha – Benny Friedman. Sure, this song is on Benny’s album, and it’s mainly sung by him, but its true genius lies in the collaborative effort that produced it. The Marcus Brothers have really nice voices, and hearing them together with Benny is a treat. Add to that this song, which is like a combo Carlebach on acid without the stress, and you’ve got a sure-fire winner. Seriously, I could listen to this song all day (I’ve done it a couple time) and not get sick- it’s sweeter and cuter than the sweetest and cutest (insert one of several Shlomo lines here), with another tang to keep it fresh for a long time.
Best Debut Album: Bezras Hashem – Beri Weber. Does this even make sense? How can it be that the best album of the year, the first album that the artist ever made, is not the debut album of the year? My only possibly excuse is that I’ve been listening to Benny sing for so long (we did both grow up in Minnesota) and so feel that he’s really not so new at all. Besides, I listened to Beri’s album obsessively until Taamu came out, and it’s really excellent. Maybe not so incredibly polished, but the song selection is really nice, especially the slow ones.
Best arrangement: No Lyrics (Benny Friedman) – Ian Freitor. Can there be any question? The instant kumzitz classic for the next decade.
Best Yiddish Song: Yiddish Medley – Avraham Fried. Yes, I loved Benny’s Emes, and the combo of Rabbi Manis Friedman and Lipa Schmeltzer is like a dream come true, but there’s something about a Chabad Niggun that really affects a person, really makes them think about what’s going on, where they’re coming from and where they’re headed to. The opener was of course redone several years ago by 8th Day, and that was nice, but the original Lubavitch melody really takes you places.
Best Concert DVD: Avraham Fried – Live in Israel. If Avraham Fried were to never make another album (not that I’m Ch”V suggesting something like that), I think this concert would be a fine retrospective of his long and distinguished career. Working through all the classics, with much higher sound quality than the originals, this album also showcases several new (for Avremel) songs, notably Rak Tefila, Unesane Tokef, and the truly beautiful and moving Mishehu Holech Tamid Iti. There’s also the classic Ribbono Shel Olam in a duet with Dudu Fisher, which shows much the same thing as Avremel’s duets with Yitzchok Meir Helfgot showed at Hasc a couple years back- he may not be a chazzan, but he’s still got one of the best voices in Jewish music.