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Shimon’s Best of 2014 Awards

by Shimon Simpson January 01, 2015

 

It’s that time of year again, when every site on the Internet comes up with its summary of the year gone by, and various forms of media begin their respective awards seasons.  Here’s the problem though: the Grammys, for no apparent reason, inexplicably continue to ignore the Jewish music scene completely.

Insane, I know.

However, I have a solution: The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States can keep their fancy gold record player statues.  Let’s just do it ourselves.  And by “ourselves”, I really mean “myself”.  I (together with several friends and relatives who I consulted with and mostly ignored) have put together the following list of awards I would grant to the Jewish music industry if it were in my power to do so.

Before we get to the awards, here are the rules.  Only albums which were released in calendar year 2014 are eligible to be nominated or win.  Decisions are final and cannot be appealed.  This list does not reflect on the opinions of JewishMusicReport.com, its owners, editors, and other writers.  Nominees are listed in no particular order.

Here we go.  The envelope please….

Best Songs of 2014:

Slow Songs:

Slow songs make up the soul of the Jewish music scene.  Slow songs make up the bulk of dinner music at chasunahs, the heart of a kumzits, and can lift davening to new heights.  They also can allow a singer to show off the full power of his vocal range, as well as highlighting the skill of an arranger.  The very best slow songs can inspire a listener or a singer to great spiritual heights.

Our nominees:

  • “Shomer Yisroel” performed by Uziah Tzadok, composed by Shlomo Yehudah Rechnitz, from the album Shir;
  • “Pischi Li” performed by Simcha Leiner, composed by Yochanan Gordon, from the album Pischi Li;
  • “Zeh Hakatan” performed by Yaakov Shwekey, composed by Yitzy Waldner, lyrics by Miriam Israeli, from the album Kolot;
  • “Al Naharos Bavel” performed by Dani Kunstler, Yitzchok Yenowitz, and Aryeh Kunstler, featuring Avi Kunstler, composed by Avi Kunstler, from the album V’Havienu 4;
  • “Essa Einai” performed by Benny Friedman, featuring Shlomo Simcha, composed by Rivky Brachfield, from the album Kol Haneshama Sheli;

And the winner is:

“Pischi Li” by Simcha Leiner

From the review: “The title track of this album, ‘Pischi Li’ is an absolute winner.  The lyrics are from  Shir Hashirim (5:2), which talks (metaphorically) about the Jewish people reminiscing regretfully about lost opportunities to do  teshuva during the time of the first Beis Hamikdash.  Once again, the piano playing and arrangements were done by Yanky Briskman and strings come courtesy of Misha Guttenberg.”

Discos and Horas

Discos and horas are songs which you could expect to hear during the second dance set at a wedding.  Most modern artists’ most popular upbeat songs are either discos or horas, which is why every album includes a few of them.

Here are the songs which got our legs moving:

  • “Simchat Chatanim” performed by Michoel Pruzansky, composed by Yitzy Waldner, lyrics by Miriam Israeli, Yanky Glazerson, and Chilu Posen, from the album Pruz Control;
  • “Hiskabtzi” performed by Yiddish Nachas, composed by Yossi Green, from the album Matanah Tovah;
  • “Simcha” performed by Simcha Leiner, composed by Yitzy Waldner, from the album Pischi Li;
  • “Osim Teshuva” performed by Dovid Gabay, composed by Elie Schwab, from the album Inscribed by CD Eichler
  • “Et Rekod” performed by Yaakov Shwekey, composed by Yitzy Waldner and Yaakov Shwekey, from the album Kolot;

And the winner is:

“Et Rekod” by Yaakov Shwekey

From the review:  “In my opinion, this song will be the one from this album which will become the song that starts every wedding second dance for the next year or two.  This high-adrenaline hora simply rocks.  The backup vocals by Zemiros Choir enhance the arrangements by Amit Harel, and Shwekey simply nails it from beginning to end.”

Rock Songs

Rock occupies an interesting place in the Jewish music spectrum.  On one hand, there is no other genre (besides rap and electronica) more clearly influenced by non-Jewish sources than rock.  On the other hand, the line between “ goyish” and “ leibidik” has been stepped over so many times I’m not sure it even exists anymore.  Regardless, Jewish rock is here to stay, and the music is better for it.

The nominees are:

  • “Am Yisroel” performed by Yaakov Shwekey, composed by and lyrics by Yishai Lapidot, from the album Kolot;
  • “Bum Bum” performed by Benny Friedman, composed by Elimelech Blumstein and Ari Goldwag, from the album Kol Haneshama Sheli:
  • “Osim Teshuva” performed by Yaakov Shwekey, featuring Metalish, composed by and lyrics by Dani Maman, from the album Kolot;
  • “Yaaleh Veyavo” performed by Shloime Gertner, composed by Mona Rosenblum, Single;
  • “Im Ein Ani Li” performed by Benny Friedman, composed by Robert Fitoussi and Yitzchok Bitton, from the album Kol Haneshama Sheli:

And the winner is:

“Bum Bum” by Benny Friedman

From the review: “If there is going to be a successor to ‘Yesh Tikvah’ that comes from this album, “Bum Bum” is it.  This track is easily my favorite song on the album—I can easily see it existing side by side with MBD’s ‘Ma’aminim’ as the ‘rock the house’ song at the end of chasunahs, or as a finale to Benny’s concerts.  It’s a kind of surfer-rock/pop-rock blend (feel free to disagree with me on the definition of those terms) with a strong guitar part by Avi Singolda, while Yitzy Spinner handles the backup vocals.”

English Songs

English songs, in my opinion, are the hardest Jewish songs to write.  Instead of grabbing a random passuk from Tanach, a songwriter is forced to put together several stanzas of lyrics that 1) make sense, and 2) aren’t cringeworthy.  Believe me, it’s a lot harder than it sounds.  The problem is that there’s only one Abie Rotenberg—and he didn’t release any albums this year.  However, 2014 did give us some very worthy entries:

  • “We Are One” performed by Eli Schwebel, composed and written by Eli Schwebel, Dove Rosenblatt, and Elie Ganz, from the album Hearts Mind;
  • “Teiman” performed by Ari Goldwag, composed and written by Miriam Israeli, from The English Album;
  • “Don’t Stop Giving Love” performed by Eli Schwebel, composed and written by Eli Schwebel, Ari Hest, and Zach Salsberg, from the album Hearts Mind;
  • “Show Your Face” performed by the New York Boys Choir, composed and written by Yitzy Bald, from the album The Sequel;
  • “Choices” performed by Ari Goldwag, composed and written by Miriam Israeli, from The English Album;

And the winner is:

“We Are One” by Eli Schwebel

From the review: “As an emphatic opening statement, ‘We Are One’ hits all of the right marks—it’s an upbeat power ballad (think ‘Better Place’ by Shloime Gertner—or even ‘Let It Go’ from  Frozen) with an inspirational message of permanent Jewish unity.”

Best New Artist

The “Best New Artist” award is given to the artist who 1) made an impact on Jewish music with his first album release; and 2) is a strong enough mainstream talent to hang around in the industry for a while.  While there were quite a few candidates this year, here is my short list of 5:

  • Eli Schwebel, for the album Hearts Mind;
  • Simcha Leiner, for the album Pischi Li;
  • Yiddish Nachas, for the album Matanah Tovah;
  • Dovid Lowy, for the album Atah Imadi;
  • Shimmy Engel, for the album Klal;

And the winner is:

Simcha Leiner

Note: Eli Schwebel was really close to coming away with this award, but I decided to err on the side of the more mainstream artist.  More on Eli later.

Albums:

Best Solo Album

The solo album is the bread and butter of the entire music industry, let alone the Jewish Music industry.  Individual artists make it their business to make sure that they never sound better than they do on their studio recordings, which inspire us to hire them for concerts, weddings, and events—which in turn finance their next albums, and the cycle begins again.

This year’s nominees for Best Solo Album are:

  • Kolot by Yaakov Shwekey, produced by Yochi Briskman
  • Pruz Control by Michoel Pruzansky, produced by Michoel Pruzansky and Yochanan Shapiro
  • Hearts Mind by Eli Schwebel, produced by Eli Schwebel and Assaf Spector
  • Pischi Li by Simcha Leiner, produced by Yochi Briskman
  • Kol Haneshama Sheli by Benny Friedman, produced by Benny Friedman and Sruly Meyer

And the winner is:

Kolot by Yaakov Shwekey

Despite being nearly a full year since its release, Kolotcontinues to amaze and impress.  Albums like Kolot serve as continuous reminders to the rest of us mortals that there is only one Shwekey, and that we are not him.

Best Group, Choir, or A Capella Album

Groups are nearly as important to the Jewish music scene as are soloists.  Where would the industry be today without the great vocal ensembles of the past like The Rabbi’s Sons, Dveykus, Ohr Chodosh, and the Diaspora Yeshiva Band?  Or choirs like Miami, Tzlil V’Zemer, and Amudei Shaish?  Does anyone still remember what sefirah was like before Lev Tahor came around?

Here are this year’s nominees:

  • V’Havienu 4 by Dani Kunstler, Yitzchok Yenowitz, and Aryeh Kunstler, produced by Dani and Aryeh Kunstler
  • Matanah Tovahby Yossi Green and Yiddish Nachas, produced by Moshy Kraus
  • One Day More by the Maccabeats, produced by Julian Horowitz
  • Am Yisroel by the Shira Chadasha Boys Choir, produced by R’ Nachman Seltzer
  • The Sequel by the New York Boys Choir, produced by Yitzy Bald

And the winner is:

V’Havienu 4 by Dani Kunstler, Yitzchok Yenowitz, and Aryeh Kunstler

V’Havienu 4 got all of the ingredients right—great songs, talented singers, impeccable arrangements, and a unique flavor.  If you like good music, you will like V’Havienu 4.

Honorable Mention in this category goes to Yiddish Nachas for the year’s best boys’ choir album (review to come IY”H soon) and to the Maccabeats for the year’s best sefirah/Three Weeks album (read the review here).

Best Collaboration or Compilation Album

All Star albums, wedding albums, live concerts with multiple headliners, and Greatest Hits albums are all included in this category, which has always been a personal favorite of mine. It may sound like a cliché, but really sometimes a project is more than just the sum of its parts.

This year’s nominees include:

  • Shir: Compositions of Shlomo Yehudah Rechnitz (All Star Album), produced by Yossi Rubin and David Fadida
  • Inscribed (All Star Album), produced by CD Eichler
  • Beats by EvanAl and Yoely Greenfeld (Wedding Album), produced by Naftali Schnitzler
  • Shades of Green IV: Varemkeit by Yossi Green and Shragee Gestetner (Greatest Hits Album)
  • A Time for Music XXVII: 40 Years of Camp HASC by HASC (Live Concert Collaboration)

And the winner is:

A Time for Music XXVII: 40 Years of Camp HASC

I’m just a sap for the HASC Concert.  And Avremel.  And Abie.  And Benny.  Not apologizing.

SPECIAL AWARDS

Trend of the Year

Winner: Achdus

More like Trend of The Last Three Years.  “Achdus” beat out a couple of strong contenders for this award, including drum machines, AutoTune, and #BringBackOurBoys, but the winner was always going to be Achdus.  The movement started by “Yesh Tikvah” in 2012 is simply out of control.  Just look at the following list:

  • “Am Yisroel” (Shwekey)
  • “We Are One” (Eli Schwebel)
  • “Am Echad” (Michoel Pruzansky)
  • “Am Echad” (a capella) (Ari Goldwag)
  • “Yachad” (Beri Weber)
  • “Am Yisroel” (x2) (Shira Chadasha)
  • “Rak Beyachad” (Benny Friedman)
  • “Kulam B’Lev Echad” (Yehudah Green)

That’s NINE Achdus-themed songs (including both versions of the Shira Chadasha song)— released in the past twelve months alone.  That doesn’t even include songs from 2013 like the original version of “Am Echad”, or “Better Place” and “Imagine” by Shloime Gertner.  We could put out an entire album of just new, unity-themed songs. That’s why I think it’s appropriate that the one who started the trend, Benny Friedman, should pull down the curtain on it with “Rak Beyachad”, the last track of his newest album.  We got it, music people.  Unity is good.  Thanks for the message.  Now go sing about something else.

The “Shiru Lamelech” Award

Winner: “V’Afilu B’Hastarah” by Yoely Klein

For those of you who have never heard of the award I just made up: Yeedle came out with his third album, Shiru Lamelech, in 1998.  A year later, someone in my yeshiva happened to be singing the title song of that album in front of the Rosh Yeshiva, who took a liking to the song.  Before I knew it, the song was everywhere, and not just in my yeshiva.  To this very day, people just keep on singing it.  The only song which that happened to this year was Yoely Klein’s Breslover-style kumzitz ballad, “V’afilu B’Hastarah”, which exploded onto the scene during Operation Protective Edge, when it may have seemed like there was some serious “ hester panim” going on.  Before anyone realized it, covers and remixes were popping up all over the Internet.  Benny Friedman, Beri Weber, Chaim Yisrael, Maydad Tasa, Yehudah Green, and literally dozens of others tried their hand at the newest big thing.  Incredible.

Trailblazer Award

Winner: Eli Schwebel, for the album Hearts Mind

I can’t emphasize enough how much impact Eli Schwebel’s album had on my outlook of Jewish Music.  It’s not just that Eli studied at the knee of the world’s greatest Jewish lyricist, Abie Rotenberg, or that he obviously has immense musical talent.  It’s that he can draw on his life experiences to write music which—despite sounding like it actually belongs in the 21 st century—is as Jewish as it comes.  Whether he is singing about Achdus (“We Are One”), a Jew’s relationship with Hashem (“Aibishter”), Shabbos (“Shabbos Takes Me Home”), or Ahavas Yisroel (“Don’t Stop Giving Love”), Eli’s music and lyrics hit home.  In an industry where going against the grain can be a career-ender, I hope Eli’s music can continue to find audiences wherever he goes—it’s a sorely needed breath of fresh air.

BEST OF THE BEST

OK, here we go.  As you might expect, the nominees for Best Song and Best Album of 2014 are taken from the nominees and winners of the various categories, which we spent a good amount of time on above.

The nominees are:

Best Song of 2014

  • “Bum Bum” performed by Benny Friedman, composed by Elimelech Blumstein and Ari Goldwag, from the album Kol Haneshama Sheli:
  • “Hiskabtzi” performed by Yiddish Nachas, composed by Yossi Green, from the album Matanah Tovah;
  • “Et Rekod” performed by Yaakov Shwekey, composed by Yitzy Waldner and Yaakov Shwekey, from the album Kolot;
  • “We Are One” performed by Eli Schwebel, composed and written by Eli Schwebel, Dove Rosenblatt, and Elie Ganz, from the album Hearts Mind;
  • “Pischi Li” performed by Simcha Leiner, composed by Yochanan Gordon, from the album Pischi Li;

Album of the Year

  • Kolot by Yaakov Shwekey, produced by Yochi Briskman;
  • Hearts Mind by Eli Schwebel, produced by Eli Schwebel and Assaf Spector;
  • Kol Haneshama Sheli by Benny Friedman, produced by Benny Friedman and Sruly Meyer;
  • V’Havienu 4 by Dani Kunstler, Yitzchok Yenowitz, and Aryeh Kunstler, produced by Dani and Aryeh Kunstler;
  • Matanah Tovahby Yossi Green and Yiddish Nachas, produced by Moshy Kraus;

And the winners are…:

Shwekey_Kolot-US-WEB

 

Song: “Et Rekod” by Yaakov Shwekey

Album: Kolotby Yaakov Shwekey

Not much else to say, is there?  He’s done it again.  There is a reason the man sells out every venue he plays—whether it’s a few hundred people at a camp concert or nearly 12,000 at a basketball stadium.  Kolotis a true masterpiece: it has a unique sound like Libi Bamizrach, but it’s still mainstream like Cry No More.

And doesn’t it make sense that the best song on the best album wins the award?  Yaakov Shwekey, enjoy your new imaginary hardware for your mantelpiece.  Now, it’s time to dance.

Thank you to the editors and to all of my readers for an amazing first year at JMR.  Here’s looking forward to a great 2015.

[THE EDITORS OF JEWISHMUSICREPORT.COM INVITE ALL READERS TO
SUBMIT THEIR OWN CHOICES IN THE COMMENT SECTION]

Shimon Simpson
Shimon Simpson


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