Very few Jewish artists are active for long enough to release thirty different albums. Fewer can take credit for composing virtually every song on all thirty of those albums. However, Yerachmiel Begun has done it. In the thirty-eight years since the release of Victory Entebbe featuring the Miami Choir Boys (who were actually based in Miami at the time), Yerachmiel Begun…and the Miami…Boys…Choir!!!! (shout that repeatedly in your best Nachum Segal voice—trust me on this one), have been a constant presence in Jewish Music. The choir has served as a launching pad for multiple Jewish solo artists, including Yaakov Shwekey, Shloime Dachs, Nochum Stark, Yitzy Spinner, and Ari Goldwag.
As I have written before, I grew up idolizing the members of the choir, and MBC albums were a constant part of the soundtrack of my youth. One By One, published in 1995, was the first CD (as opposed to cassette) I ever owned, and the stretch of eleven albums from 1984 (B’Siyata D’Shmaya) to 1995 (Miami Experience V) remain the longest streak of quality albums released by any Jewish artist—ever.
It’s been four years since the release of Miami’s last full original album, Mi LaHashem Eilai, and Yerachmiel has finally released a new studio recording, Ut Ut. I can’t emphasize enough how impressed I am–Yerachmiel’s still got it. It’s amazing that nearly four decades can go by and basically the only things that change are the outfits in the cover picture (candy-cane-striped hats are out, white blazers are in) and the fact that strings are exchanged for synths (a process that started in the ‘90s). All twelve (not a typo!) songs on the album are recognizably Begun compositions, but they don’t sound recycled. The soloists are all incredible, and AutoTune in the studio (if any is used at all) is tastefully hidden and not noticeable.
One change from the MBC of the ‘90s is the adult choir. Instead of the “Miami Voice Symphony” backup choir (which hit its peak in the “Hagaddah” sequence at Miami Experience IV in 1994), the adult choir is the Miami Alumni—15 former members of the choir who come in for backup duty, as well as getting a song of their own. Of course, given that this is the Miami Boys Choir we’re talking about here, there is one adult whose presence is a constant: you will hear Yerachmiel’s voice in the second half of almost every song of the album—but you already knew that, right?
All songs composed, arranged, and conducted by Yerachmiel Begun.
Track 1, “Ut Ut”: The title track starts us off, and it’s pretty much what you would expect. An orchestrated synth-string intro, the choir coming in gently accompanied by the bass drum, escalating into a disco which you can imagine ending every MBC concert for the foreseeable future. An interesting note—the Yiddish lyrics in the bridge (“Kumt shoin shell arain, freilach zol men zain…”) will sound instantly familiar to any long-time Miami fan, as they were featured in the opening track of the 1993 album It’s Min Hashamayim.
Track 2, “Leibedik”: Leibedik is definitely the word. A pumping techno/rock wedding-themed song, this song will get the kids dancing quickly, especially when the Yiddish chorus kicks in. Lomir alle tantzin indeed.
Track 3, “Boi Kallah”: Keep count of the wedding songs on this album, there will be a quiz when we’re done. Our first slow song, this one has it all. Think “Nekadeish” combined with “Meheirah” and you have the right idea.
Track 4, “B’Simcha Rabbah”: An old-school-style Miami hora (think “L’maranan V’Rabanan” or “D’vei Haseir”) with a 21st-century disco beat for the chorus. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the kids were being told to sing differently for this song, especially for the second verse (“noyrah, noyrah sehillos…”)—I don’t know, maybe more yeshivish? Maybe it’s just me.
Track 5, “Tzur”: This is a medium ballad which slowly builds in intensity as it ends as a full-blown disco. It’s very nicely arranged and features three soloists who obviously know what they are doing
Track 6, “V’shum”: We’re only going to deduct a half-point for reusing lyrics twice on the same album (“v’shum na’avadcha b’yirah…” is also a line in Track 1) because I am assuming, based on no information whatsoever, that Track 1 and Track 6 were recorded several years apart from each other and were arranged independently of each other. In any case, this is a rock song which lends itself to some very creative arrangements at concerts.
Track 7, “Invei Hagefen”, feat. The Miami Alumni Choir: The grown-ups get a track to themselves! Composed in honor of the wedding of Chananya Begun last fall, “Invei” is a song I can actually see becoming popular at weddings in the near future. The alumni featured in the song are all very talented, and their voices blend nicely, whether they are singing as a choir, in duets, or as solos.
Track 8, “Sameach” (Also arranged by Chananya Begun): This song is one that I can see becoming a fun dance number at concerts, but that’s around it. Also, were we supposed to hear Yerachmiel counting out the beat (3 minutes in)? I did enjoy the funky bass arrangements and key change at around the 2:20 mark in the song.
Track 9, “He Will Answer Us” (Lyrics by Tzippi Shaked): I do not use the following sentence lightly: This song is the best English Miami song since “Sunshine”. Instead of the entire choir, this song features only three soloists: Orie Shaked (imported from Miami Mizrach), Dovid Pearlman, and Tzvi Simchon. I predict that in five years, after all these kids have aged out the choir, the solos for this song will become the most hotly contested parts for future concerts. A simply amazing song, and by far the best song on the album.
Track 10, “Lo Bashamayim He”: I think I found the spiritual successor to “Lo Yisa Goy”. This rock song is that good, especially the impeccably arranged bridge at 2:42. If that can pull it off live (and I have no doubt they can) that will be even more impressive.
Track 11, “Pitchu Li” (Lyrics also by Chaya Adler): Another unfortunate side effect of a Jewish album taking four years to make is the possibility that someone else will come out with a song that has a similar title and a similar sequence of notes as a crucial place in one of your songs. So, please, do me a favor everyone, and do not compare this song to Simcha Leiner’s “Pischi Li”. The similarities are there, but I wouldn’t make much of them, as the rest of the song is totally unique and totally amazing. I love the words, the arrangements, the jazzy accompaniment at the 5:20 mark, the soloists, everything. One minor gripe I do have is me being a grammar nerd: The lyrics in the second line of the low part should be “banai yakirai”, not “b’ni yakiri”, as the midrash being quoted is Hashem talking to the Jewish people in the plural. Whatever.
Track 12, “Kol Kol Kol—The Day Will Come”: And the answer is…five wedding songs! For those of you who guessed correctly, please come to the bandstand to pick up your winnings. This song is a great valedictory to a very well-done album, summing up the themes of simcha and geulah in a great orchestral rock arrangement.
In summary, some albums are worth the wait. I’m glad that Yerachmiel was able to tide us over with some material since the release of Mi LaHashem Eilai, but neither When the Siyum Calls nor Miami Mizrach was a full original album. Ut Ut has been a long time coming, but with any luck it will be the catalyst that helps keep the Miami Boys Choir in the first tier of Jewish performing groups for years to come.