Avraham Fried, generally speaking, is probably the most popular Jewish singer at this time. He has pulled in over 100,000 at concerts in Israel, and is well known even in secular Israeli society. His tremendous vocal talents are equaled by his personal humility, which, strangely enough, does not impact his tremendous stage presence. No one can deliver a vocal message like Fried.
One point that is important regarding Fried’s career – as a Lubavitcher chassid, he has continuously followed a path that follows the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. His lyric choices echo specific public talks and themes of the Rebbe’s. It is quite obvious that he took on his musical vocation as a shlichus in and of itself. I hope eventually Avremel will tell that story himself.
(****) No Jew Will Be Left Behind (1981): The title track here is what propelled Fried into potential stardom. This song has had a surprising amount of staying power, and when you hear Fried sing it nowadays, it really gives you the chills. But Keil Hahodaos and Kanei are both all-time classics, Kanei being almost Carlebach-ian in its reach across communities. Everyone knows it, sung to the words of Yedid Nefesh. (No other song has lost its original lyrics as completely as Kanei!) The Return is an underrated English song. This was a very good debut, and boded well for the future.
(***) The Time Is Now (1982): Album #2 came out soon after No Jew. The result? Some very good songs, very nice moments, but rather screechy vocals and arrangements: WAY too much violins and trumpets, and, regarding vocals, witness he finishes off 7 out of 10(!) songs on high pitched yodels – some better executed than others. My thought is Fried was still growing into his voice – he definitely showcases his range, but the result is sometimes overpowering. The success on this album are the slow songs – Vehoyu Limshisa, Vezakeinu and K’ayol Taarog are gorgeous songs sung with a lot of emotion. Emotion has always been Fried’s vocal calling card, and he expresses it more on this album than on No Jew.
(**) Forever One (1983): There are three amazing songs here: the title track, Invei Hagefen, and Tatenyu – Fried’s first foray into Yiddish. Tatenyu is actually a Lubavitcher niggun, with Fried’s own beautiful lyrics surgically attached. The rest of the CD? Meh… The big problem is the same as The Time is Now – but worse. These are just fantastic songs that are difficult to listen to. Thankfully, Fried did an outstanding job performing Tatenyu on HASC 1, and a wonderful performance of Forever One on HASC 20. Here, however, the arrangements are just very distracting. It’s too bad, because all three of those songs are excellent.
(***) Melaveh Malka with Avraham Fried (1984): At this point, Fried’s voice starts back on his way up, and the arrangements get better. This is a decent album, with nothing outstanding. Good songs include Askinu, Yivarechecha (later redone by Zohar) and A Gut Voch. Ish Chosid was a beautiful Lubavitcher Nigun badly produced – it’s performed in a hurry – everything feels rushed, and the lyrics don’t match the tune.
(****) Goodbye Golus (1985): Here, Fried returned to his real skill – performing songs with real emotion. The tracks Kadesh, Veseorev, and Habet all have some really powerful vocals. This album is well crafted, with some very beautiful moments – even in the arrangements (the strings on Ata Sakum are very pretty). Most importantly, it has some extremely creative moments: the child Fried soloist on Venikeisi, and the cantorial piece on Vehi She’amda. The opening tune, Lefonov, is an exciting song. The title track? Whatever. All in all, good album – and I think this is where Fried started getting ahead of your average Jewish singer.
(**) Around the Year Volume 2 (1986): Suki and Ding’s follow-up to MBD’s good album was a bit on the lame side. Keyboards do not make an album. The arrangements do not come across as being particularly professional as a result of the overuse of electronic shtick. Besides, the collection of songs itself just isn’t as good as either of the other two Around the Years. Highlights, however, can certainly be found – the beginning of the track Around the Year II, as well as pieces of the Yerushalayim Medley, are really nice. But this isn’t a very good album as a whole.
(***) We Are Ready (1988): Two major hits here, Avrohom Yogel and Tanyeh. What else to say about those two? We have once again a Chazanus piece (Emes), and a few pretty songs. The weakness of this album, is, once again, in the arrangements. Very standard and plastic. Listen to Avrohom Yogel on HASC 2; or to Tanyeh on the Ohel concert. The title track is a bit of a reach, with regards to lyrics. Fried didn’t really get back to the good English songs, for whatever reason until the mid-‘90’s. It seems that he was too concerned with the message he wanted to impart, rather than allowing the artistic/poetic side of the message impart itself.
(***) Around the Year Volume 3 (1989): As I’ve said before, I’m not really a fan of collections. However, here, Avremel picked up the slack. What could have been a “whatever” album was done very well – he sings with a tremendous amount of energy. The best song on the cd is, by far, Golus Medley – Fried whips out a “Rochel Mevakoh!” which is gorgeous.
(**) The Good Old Days (1990): I feel like this album is comparable to MBD’s “MBD Live” – Fried had a big future in front of him, and this was a little too early to release a concert album. As for the song selection, it’s a surprising one – one that doesn’t include some of his bigger hits of the earlier years. The only thing I like about it is the redone version of Invei Hagefen – although my feeling is that even that could have been done better. The album isn’t terrible by any means, but it doesn’t hold up in the light of the rest of Fried’s work.
(***) Aderaba (1991): Fried has always done a tremendous job choosing songs that are both good, and match his voice. This album has a pile of great songs, including Nisht Gedaaget, Hinei Ma Tov, Ki Hamitzvah and Kol Yisroel. The weak songs are pretty weak – Layehudim and Kaitzad Merakdin are so similar they’re almost interchangeable, and Achas Shoalti doesn’t really go anywhere. Once again, the arrangements – although tolerable – are feeble. Here you start to see Fried put a lot of energy into Yiddish. He uses the Mama Loshon with a lot of excitement and verve. It’s possible those feelings of personal expression led to his next album.
(*****) Yiddish Gems Volume 1 (1992): With the ten minute anthem Yakob, and the brilliant rendition of Shabbos Koidesh, Fried truly put his all into this series. Yaron Gershovsky finally created a sound in the arrangements that truly resonates along with Fried’s voice. What can you say? Fried took Yom Tov Ehrlich’s gems to a new level – singing the songs with authenticity, respect and creativity. I don’t see any flaws on this album – it’s a beautiful work of art.
(***) Shtar Hatna’im (1993): This album is filled with the Moshiach energy that filled the world of Lubavitch at the time. Fried put a lot of creative talent into this album – from the opening lyrics of Boruch Haba/Shehechiyonu, to the jazz-influenced Hisyatzvu. Yossi Green makes his vocal entrance in Refoeini, and it seemed that for a while, he wanted to be next to the mic on virtually any CD with his compositions. Giant’s Shoulders needs a few rewrites, but in theory it’s a nice song. A respectable album, but better was on its way.
(****) Yiddish Gems Volume 2 (1994): Fried scores again with his brilliant rendering of Ehrlich’s compositions. This album is rated lower than Vol. 1, because it has two songs that drop it in comparison – Sheloi Osani Goy is ripped apart by a clarinet that is very distracting, and A Bris in Moskva, while a compelling story, has almost no tune. However, Frunzer Eshalon is fantastic, as is Yosef Mokir Shabbos. The other songs are also well performed and thought out. Another great arrangement job by Gershovsky.
(****) Bracha V’Hatzlacha (1995): This album was obviously named after the words the Rebbe greeted everyone with, and it has a certain element of tribute towards him, with the double-entendre’d Don’t Hide From Me. Don’t Hide is certainly Fried’s best English song in the decade plus since Forever One. This album is pure pop, but it is generally tolerable due to high adrenaline songs in Sisu, Ksheim, Yerushalayim – and my favorite, due to the awesome lyrics, Odom Doeg. Yisimcha became a classic Kumzits song as well. Its biggest fault is in Chavivi – it takes too long to get moving! I actually sliced the song using Audacity – I like the tune, but it just drags on and on before getting anywhere.
(****) Im Eshkachaich Yerushalayim (2 CD’s) (1996): For real music lovers, this one is a real treat – the Prague Symphony Orchestra, along with Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue Choir, and twenty of Fried’s best songs. There are some phenomenal moments on this album – the sound quality is excellent, and the performance, all around, is tremendous. Fried’s vocal talent is showcased in a dazzling way in this beautiful musical experience. One question – what’s up with that backdrop?!
(***) Hupp Cossack (1996): As seen, Fried has never shied away from his Lubavitcher roots. Hupp Cossack was a triumphant success bringing Lubavitcher niggunim back into the mainstream. While this was a good collection of niggunim – Fried especially excels during Haneiros Halalu – the arrangements are occasionally sterile again. You gotta love Fried going back to his older shtick, with the appearance of the child Avraham Fried during Tzoma Lecha Nafshi. Hupp Cossack and Nye Zhuritzi are personal highlights, while Essen Est Zich was a peek into the “real” Lubavitch that most outsiders may not be acquainted with. Keili Ata was not necessary – the “velt” knows that niggun from many sources, and he didn’t really add much with regards to the tune itself.
(***) Chazak (1997): This may be many people’s favorite Fried CD, but I found it lacking – no English, no Yiddish, no real *themed* song. Don’t get me wrong – Dida Bey is an all-timer. Levinyomin and Koach and Tekah are great songs. But two of the most popular tunes, Chazak and Modeh Ani, are kinda lame on their face – there’s no depth in either song, and they’re just pop-y peppy stuff. No real guts to them at all. I’m also of the mind that – don’t kill me – Vetiher isn’t that much of a chazanus piece, and that it doesn’t fit that well on this album. I also wish they used real instruments on Koach. There’s plenty of creativity, good songs and such on this album; I just think it’s a tad overrated.
(****) The Baal Shem Tov’s Song (1998): And who knew that Avremel is an einikel of the Baal Shem Tov? That’s correct – through the House of Rizhin. And in honor of the Baal Shem Tov’s 300th birthday, out came this beautiful CD. There’s more here musically than Hupp Cossack, and the collection is more diverse. I think Fried does his best job on K’ayol Taarog (Fried’s third song with these lyrics), where he sings a real pnimiusdik niggun from the bottom of his heart without sacrificing musically. Tzoma Tzoma is a great nigun played with intensity – Andy Statman adds to the excitement with some beautiful clarinet work. This is a very good niggunim CD.
(****) My Fellow Jew – Yochid V’rabim (2001): Here’s where Fried’s arrangements really started catching up with his voice. I think this is a really nice album – My Fellow Jew and Yochid Verabim have beautiful messages and are wonderful compositions. Ad Heino is a tune I find myself singing almost every Shabbos. Mi Ma is the requisite pop hit, but Tantz and L’Chaim are really nice speedy songs as well. For some reason, this CD didn’t take off as wel as Chazak – and it beats me why.
(***) Avraham Fried Live! (2001): Must have been a fun concert! Fried performs very nicely. The totality of the CD is somewhat lacking – Shalsheles and Dachs just are nowhere near Fried. But Avremel puts up a really nice show. I love his ending for Yerushalayim, in particular. The backup orchestra could have been better, and the recording is a bit sketchy. But if you’re a fan, this an album that you have to have.
(****) Avinu Malkeinu (2003): At this point, Fried picks up a fellow Lubavitcher to do his arrangements – and Avremi G responds admirably. This is a much more “out there” group of niggunim than Fried’s other two albums; some in this collection are songs your average Lubavitcher may not have known until the album was released. But with the excitement of Ein Od Milvado and the jazzy creativity in Karahod, along with some excellent selections in the medleys – this is a really nice album. The Poltava Nigun is particularly successful in its authentic Chassidic feel. To me, Higoleh Noh is the weakest song on the album – I don’t know why he included it. There are still hundreds of other niggunim that need to be properly showcased – this one is nothing special in comparison with many others.
(****) Bein Kach U’vein Kach (2006): Another well composed, well arranged album. Father Don’t Cry is extraordinary – both in terms of performance and lyrics. Fried singing about his father’s death and coupling it with a Gemara on Hashem’s tears is a real high in Jewish music. Matzliach, Baishanim, Menorah and Bein Kach range from good to great. The two songs that I can’t stand are Malko D’almo and Al Tiro – Malko D’almo doesn’t fit on this album at all. The background choir isn’t much to write home about, and the tune itself is very dusty. Al Tiro is a filler pop tune that doesn’t have a place here as well. But these things are more than answered by the brilliant Lo Ovo and the enjoyable Nu, B’zi and Ko Ho’oseik. Good album.
Tachlis: Best album – my take would be Yiddish Gems Vol. 1; and if you want to go for original material, my favorite would be Goodbye Golus; despite the fact that later CDs were better produced. I simply love the selection of songs, along with the deeply hartzig vocal performance.
Best English song – either Forever One or Father Don’t Cry.
Best Yiddish song – this one’s really hard. I’m going to go with Nisht Gedaaget.
Best Hebrew song, including Ivrit – Aleh Katan.
Best Liturgical song – Kadesh Es Shimcha