This is a first for us here at Jewish Music Report and probably for Jewish music reviews as well. So many of our writers wanted to review Benny Friedman that we just decided to let everyone have a go at it. While our full review will appear in a few days, we wanted to give you our initial thoughts, just a few hours after the CD was released.
Hislahavus: Heeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Benny! I’ll keep my initial reactions short. Firstly, old news, but it bears repeating – the guy’s got a voice. Sweet and smooth, great control, no shrieking whatsoever. So he gains a lot of points there. As for the song selection, arrangement, and all that – the good thing is, the deeper into the CD, the better it gets. Which is nice, because he saves some surprises for later, rather than showing you everything he has on the first song. However, I do feel like some of the songs are … meh … but the main thing is his voice is just so sweet you don’t mind listening to them. Let’s see if they get better with a few more listens. After my first listen-through, I’d peg Yaavducha, Letova and Emes with the best songs on the album. This album makes me look forward to more Benny in the future – can’t wait!
JM Derech: Benny Friedman is not what I expected. He is in the beginning stages of what will be a Jewish music superstar. For a debut album, this album is beyond my expectations. Sure, I figured he would be good, maybe better than good, but not great! I can only imagine what he will sound like down the line when he reaches the same point his uncle, Avraham Fried, is at in his career. My favorite song is Letova. But it’s my favorite by a fraction, because there are so many great songs that deserve to be a favorite choice. I hope you all buy this album and add it to your collection, because this album is going gold! FINALLY! An album with not just great arrangements, but a great voice as well!
Kol Isha: Believe it or not, I hate listening to new CDs. It takes time to really get to know a CD and know how you feel about it. And I hate listening to a CD when everyone keeps saying how unbelievably amazing it is going to be. Most of them don’t live up to the hype. Does this one? Stay tuned for my thoughts in our full review later in the week. Let me just say this for now. There are a few songs on this CD that were so right, so good, that it feels like I have known them all my life and I’ve just been waiting for someone to sing them, the kind of songs you hear once and you can’t stop singing them. Which ones? Letova, No Lyrics (yes, you read that right) and Yaavducha. Amar, Moshiach and Kad Yasvun aren’t far behind. I am slowly but surely falling in love with more and more of them. As for Benny, does his voice live up to the hype? You better believe it. He is THAT good.
Want me to sum up this CD in just five words? Avi Newmark does it again.
Shmuli: I feel like I have heard these songs before. They feel so at home and comfortable, yet with a great modern and renewed touch. This is where The Fried(man) comes together with the 8th day (Marcus) in one great combination.
The Sheichet’s Cut: heard and written between 6:05am and 7:30am. Yes, this is the short version!!
1 – Misod – while the intro is a touch old-school for my taste, the song quickly turns more contemporary when it enters into the first verse. Melodic twists keep the song interesting throughout. While I would have liked a touch more resonance from the drums, I am very pleased with the clarity of both the bass and the guitars, which are essentially the driving forces behind the rhythm here. Plenty of trumpet and sax for the Jewish music purist, but besides for in the intro, I didn’t find that it was overbearing. Great song, which I think will still be a classic years from now.
2 – No Lyrics – or what most of us might call a “niggun”. Here’s where the real freshness begins. Great steel string intro. The mostly sparse arrangement – piano, bass, acoustic guitar and light synths really help allow this beautiful melody to shine out. Nice New-Age type of feel. A string section with electronica overlay instrumental bridge helps tie together our first taste of the freshness this production team is bringing to the table. When you have an artist with serious personality, you want to display that and that’s what they’re doing with this song. This song is basically Benny saying “You wanna be happy? Here, let me show you how”.
3 – Ukesheim – I thought they should have jumped straight into the piano part of the intro and skipped the trumpets. They didn’t detract terribly but I didn’t find it necessary either. Really absolutely beautiful melody. Arrangements kept basic again, really highlighting the song and Benny’s angelic voice. I’m particularly admiring the mix in this song. Every note comes through clearly and the instruments all have just the right amount of reverb and warmth.
4 – Taamu – While I really like the arrangements here, as well as the mix – note how every beat of the drums resonates clearly – I’m not sure I love the song itself, despite the great concept. I find it a touch repetitive and the melody a little 90s.
5 – Hameracheim – Great job on the part of the recording engineers in capturing the subtle nuances of the organic instruments. This is very important in a song that they chose to arrange with a classical music arrangement. I am very happy to hear this as I’ve always been a big believer that if you go with a style, you need to really embrace it. They’ve done that here and it’s certainly successful.
6 – Moshiach – Back into the new and fresh, this acoustic dance track is done absolutely perfectly. Everything from the choirs to the mix is right on target. Notice how the backup vocs are not shadowing the lead on much of the song, which really helps bump up the freshness levels. Amazing melody, this will be a fav for years to come. Benny, how did you get so happy?
7 – Kad Yasvun – I didn’t get the heimishe accent – used to be people thought every album had to have an English song, no they seem to think you have to have an altered-accent one? Regardless, great song – almost more of a Tefilla than a song. Benny really feels the lyrics here and does an excellent job of expressing them. We really see a good deal of Benny’s range here and amazingly his voice retains the same strength in most any register, which is something rare and beautiful indeed. Good arrangement while not necessarily anything groundbreaking – but who says everything has to be?
8 – Amar – Nice laid back disco sort of feel here. I don’t feel they got the most out of Benny’s voice here in post production. I’m not sure if the vocal track got too little reverb or needed a touch more echo or possibly a touch less compression on the overall master track. Nonetheless this song just has that something that makes it super danceable and super memorable. They definitely did get the most out of Benny’s personality. Benny, one listen into this CD and we love you already.
9 – Yaavdecha – Another great fun filled piece. This team really did a superb job of picking the right songs and sounds to match Benny’s personality. 9 songs in, while some I like more and others more than that, I haven’t found a dud yet. Very playful arrangement in this song – again a good example of really embracing the sort of feel you’re after without losing any of the Jewish feel. Clearly Avi is the master.
10 – Letovah – this is just completely risky and I love it. This song could have so easily flopped with any one aspect not coming together. Luckily, it all comes together quite excellently. Furthermore because it could have gone wrong at any moment, for me it kind of had that tightrope excitement that comes of dangerous musical feats. This song is a musical bungee jump and I am thoroughly thrilled by it.
11 – Batuach Ani – At this 11th song, where most albums are staring to tire and wind down, Taamu is still kicking it up. Great contemporary arrangement – I’m almost at the end of the album and contrary to what the intro of song 1 suggested, I haven’t been crowded out by trumpet and sax parts. Avi and company are dragging us into the future of Jewish music and we’ll all be the better for it.
12 – Emes – kind of moves back into a classic Jewish music feel, but a great song. Almost like a tribute to his uncle, Avraham Fried. Really has that sort of movement and feel of a playful Fried song.
Anyway, it’s been a great ride and I’ve only listened once, plus I’ve been writing this through that listen. This is gonna get better and better. If you don’t get out and buy this album it’s really your own loss.
Remember, these are just our initial thoughts from our first few times through this highly anticipated album. Be sure to check back in a few days for our comprehensive, mega-review!!
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