The Best of Mordechai Ben David – a Career Retrospective pt. 3

May 31, 2012 8 min read

Live in Yerushalayim: (*****) 1989: This second of MBD’s live albums remains a keeper. He is joined by Michoel Streicher, who does an excellent job on Ki Lekach Tov, Ivdu and Vyemeley, but the star of the show is certainly MBD, who sings through a few of his major hits (Just One Shabbos, Rachem #2 – way better than the original! – and Yidden) alongside four new – and wonderful tunes. Va’ani Bechasdecha (#2) is a classic Baruch Chait song, and I dare you not to be singing along as it picks up speed. Im Hashem is another stellar tune, sung with grace and intent. The guitar-led arrangement for Sameach (#2) is just perfect, and MBD cruises along with it, studio-like, without slipping a bit. And finally, MBD and Streicher join together for a memorable duet on Pischu Li (#2) for the finale. The backup band, led by the indomitable Rabbi Chait, is nothing if not solid, and the recording quality is extremely good for a concert of this era. The only thing I would have sliced would be the intro to Just One Shabbos – with some noisy nay-sayers in the crowd that always puzzles me every time I hear it. Across the board, however, this is just a delightful concert.

While talking about MBD’s live recordings, we would be remiss if we did not mention those early HASC concerts. How can you not pick up Time for Music vols. 1-7, watch the videos or listen to the CDs, and enjoy Jewish music’s premiere talent at the very peak of his ability? I’d pick HASC 2 for his best vocal performance, with the truly brilliant Ribono Shel Olam, among other great musical pieces. (Watch this video for a fascinating behind-the-scenes miracle story regarding that incredible performance:

The Double Album: (****) 1990: Maybe we’d expect more variety for a double album (or at least a creative name). Still this is a beautiful pair of discs, which include the great Daaga Minayin, the stunning Neshomoleh, and the popular Samcheim (along with Yeedle). But the richness of the slow and soulful tunes are what truly color this album – Od Yeishvu, Yivoda (#2), Hakshiva, Vehaarev and particularly B’rogez, with its beautiful guitar work, all tug deeply at the heart strings. Speaking of strings, Yisrael Lamm’s work here is exquisite, keeping the arrangements clear, full and complete, and most importantly, complimentary of the striking vocals. However, his over-reliance on the symphonic violins does lessen the overall experience. Besides for the afore-mentioned Daaga Minayin (and its other-worldly a capella intro) and a personal favorite in the Stoliner Niggun with its classy groove, the fast songs all could have used a little more oomph in their compositions, but it’s all good. And finally, MBD spits out Miracles with fire and energy, to match the sublime sweetness of his Yiddish piece, Mama Rochel. Beautiful all around.

Solid MBD: (*) 1990: Nothing to look at here, folks. Suki and Ding rehashed songs from their four MBD albums, overdubbed some annoying synth and rereleased it. Nothing new, and they made some songs, like Meheiroh, worse. Skip. Just one question – where was the song Mimkomcha (#2) originally published?

Moshiach: (***) 1992: I’ll probably get flack for rating this, one of MBD’s mega-hits, so low. But hear me out: Besides the incredible Moshiach x 3 and the wonderful Rashi’s Niggun*, the rest of the album is average. Crack of Dawn is okay, as is Samcheynu (#2). But I’m not crazy over the child soloist, who is too powerful for his own good. Whatever the case, that doesn’t take away from the continued popularity of the title track, an uber-hit that took over Israel after becoming the unofficial team anthem of an Israeli basketball team that won the championship. I absolutely love the enthusiastic reprise at the end of the album, Moshiach Tag, with MBD’s and the choir’s zestful performance and the great sax solo. As for the rest of the album, a significant portion of 6/10 songs are slow and a few of the songs are similar to one another conceptually (Shema Beni and Ani Shabbos). In addition, I can’t stand re-using lyrics. So why they needed to use yet ANOTHER tune with the words Ani Maamin (#5) on one record is just beyond me. But individually, the songs all rank from decent to good, so I understand why it remains popular.

*Let’s eradicate this rumor once and for all: no, the Lubavitcher Rebbe did NOT say those words to MBD! MBD himself negated this report in a Hebrew web interview about a year ago; I think with

Tomid Besimcha: (***) 1994: “Power” is the operating word on Tomid Besimcha, although not always in its favor. You’ve got plenty of energy amidst the brass – after all, Mona was working here – but it could have used a little easing off the gas to mellow things out a bit, particularly on Gam Ki Eilech (#1). Still, you have some excellent offerings, with Al Tisya’esh tops on my chart, and Timche (with its alternating Zecher/Zeicher pronunciation, explosive orchestration, and humorous intro) coming up not far behind. Kol Hamesameach, with its funky Latin horns and harsh sax, is a creative piece, and Yerushalayim (in both English and Ivrit – but the Ivrit has better lyrics) is a standard. The backing voices are together and full, and we have a good child soloist who stretched way too far on Nichsefa. The title track is blown out of proportion, with too much focus on the pop experience as opposed to the words and the emotion. In contrast, the Yiddish Mi K’amcha Yisruel, is an excellent work all around. This is a somewhat forgotten album that deserves another listen.

Special Moments: (*) 1994: I’m no fan of wedding albums. I think they regenerate spontaneously, as opposed to being created. This one’s no different. In fact, it was hard for me to shell out the $10 to get the download; if not for the fact that this was the final album in the collection that I did not yet own, so shell out I did. Anyway, as befits a family affair, brother Mendy and son Yeedle join Mordche on this album. They put a lot of energy into the vocals, and that is the most that can be said of this record. But… Is it just me, or do all wedding albums have the same basic arrangement? This may sound harsh, but the orchestration is utterly soulless. There are a few creative moments – most notably, the endings of the Cracow, Special Moments and Freilech medleys, but all could have been used out a little more. The Belz Medley is the best track on the record, with some lesser-known niggunim sung energetically. The Choson track is a reprise of Rachem #3, using almost the exact same choral style – minus MBD’s solos. The Kallah track is likewise missing a soloist. So… yeah – you get my drift.

Once Upon a Nigun: (**) 1996: A collection of niggunim is better than a wedding album, but still… The song selection here is good, yet the collection style gives you no chance to sit and stew in a niggun, as one is meant to. As for the arrangements – the train sound effects on Ani Maamin was overdoing it a bit, and the child soloist at the end makes it worse. The best track to this biased reviewer would be the Hisvaadus Medley, an amalgamation of four niggunim written by the Alter Rebbe. The niggun Arba Bavos interspersed through it was a nice touch, but probably not respectful enough to a niggun of that caliber. My guess is they wanted to include it, but didn’t want to sing it in deference to the Chabad custom to only sing it on special occasions. Yeshivish is the other really nice medley, ending (ironically?) with a well-known Lubavitcher niggun. One more critique: no doubling up! Keili Ata had already been performed on Yerushalayim Our Home; Shebshifleinu, Uva’u Chulom on Around the Year; and Vehaya Bayom Hahu on Songs of Rosh Hashana. (Not to mention yet another performance of Ani Maamin (#6).)

Ein Od Milvado: (***) 1997: Somewhat reflective of Tomid Besimcha, this album is a half step above that. In general, this was a decade of heavy brass use, and at this point, there seems to be a slight shift outwards, although still almost all pop. There’s bit of originality with the whistling intro to Vehachein Parnososeinu (“Whistle While You Work”?). A smooth guitar solo appears on Keili Keili (#2), which is a nice song that takes too long to get started and then takes too long to end off. Kudosh is a semi-cantoral piece that never really develops well. The moving Rebbe’s Niggun is an emotional ode to the Ribnitzer Rebbe, of blessed memory. MBD gets deeply emotional towards the end of the piece. The song includes a unique twist, with the insertion of the Rebbe’s favorite tnuah (or niggun section) as the chorus. It achieves absolutely sublime results in the final repetition, as Modche really lets it rip – from the voice as well as the heart. We finally(!) have an Ani Maamin with one of the OTHER 13, and the outcome is a solid tune. MBD’s fourth Od Yishoma is average, but the half Ashkenozis, half Sefaradit Chevron is another pop powerhouse to end off the album, with some funk reggae beats tossed in there for fun. So, overall, a pretty good pop record, but man, that album art SO does not match the album style!

The English Collection: (****) 1998: As its name implies, this is a collection of nine of MBD’s best English numbers with more modern arrangements. Heavily influenced by Ken Burgess, who added the two new songs, it has a soft rock/pop feel, with MBD going for an airy vocal style, oftentimes de-emphasizing power with focus instead on nuance. The anthology itself is pretty good, having picked up most of the English songs that would carry over well into the modern era. The only song I wish was here, as I said before, would have been So Much Closer, and perhaps even Candles. The song Miracles is totally ramped up from the original, and takes the cake for the most tweaked song. Pay attention to that awesome Hammond organ solo amid all the snazzy drumwork. The lyrics of Unity are modernized a tad as well. And of the two newbies, Lonely People is the better of the two, with great concept and application. This Time uses euphemisms that are just not typical to the Jewish world, and that annoys me. (Holy grace? The wise men who were lost? Revelation in their eyes? Prophet of the truth? Uh uh.) And the title is too close to the previous song, and quite possibly the best song on the album, Take the Time – originally recorded on the album Fathers and Sons. I’m a big fan of the production there – great guitar from Avi Singolda, and Yaron Gotfried on the keys lines everything up perfectly. Only one thing is missing on this awesome record – I just wish the arrangements for Pray and Sing would have included the original instrumental interlude in some fashion. This is an authentic and classy record.

We Are One: (*****) 1999: Add this terrific album to the “Best Of” series, because that’s where it belongs. We Are One features awesome song variety alongside colorful orchestration, top-of-the-line content in Yiddish, Ivrit and English songs, and truly new ideas in Jewish music with the latin Kol Dodi and disco Yismechu (#2). Even old-style songs have spice that is unique, such as with Andy Statman’s performance on Emes. Go down the set-list, and you’ll find only one weak link: Lechu Vonim, which is a bit bland. But really, look at this: Hillel Paley’s hartzig and catchy Habeit; Lulei Soroscho with the gorgeous and passionate cross-harmonies at its end; Boruch Hashem – patented Lipa word-smithery; We Are One – with poignant, artsy lyrics and smooth arrangements; Ad Matai – MBD’s best Ivrit song, which has just awesome lyrics and a phenomenal production. Yizkereim and Emes are average, but good tunes, and Va’ani (#3) is another thing of beauty, with its funky beat and power horns. Ve’ohavto has its beautiful old-school boys choir backup, and Yismechu #2 has great total production value, in its jumpy beat, elegant choir and complex harmonies. Lemaan Daas is slightly above average, but Kol Dodi, with its baritone sax solo, is a fine ending for a fine album – easily one of MBD’s best.

(To be continued. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here. Part 4 is here.)