an album review by Mendel “the Sheichet”
When we fist heard Yisroel Werdyger on the 2008 Oorah compilation CD, we were not left with very high expectations. We mostly assumed that the audition he won to be featured on the CD was a fix or at least that the judges were highly influenced by the weight his last name carries. In his debut album, Bayis Neeman, Yisroel Werdyger puts forth a very convincing argument to the contrary. He proves quite definitively that he inherited much more than just his surname. I don’t know what happened since the Oorah CD – whether it was good coaching or just finding his voice – but his highly polished performance in Bayis Neeman clearly shows that the folks at Oorah were very able judges of potential super-star value.
Bayis Neeman is one of the most rewarding listening experiences I’ve had in a long time and among at least the top 5 ever for a Jewish artist debut. There are many elements that come together to make this album stand out from the crowd. For one thing, the album flows well and actually feels like a cohesive unit. I find that many albums in Jewish music are mere compilations of unconnected songs. The styles tend to be all over the place and there seems to be no real theme or common denominator besides for it being Jewish music. This album stands out in that it is a pleasant journey listening from end to end. The order of the songs was well thought out and the tracks flow smoothly and purposefully. Producer Gershy Moscowitz obviously entered this project with a vision and the execution is impeccable.
At its most basic level Bayis Neeman is an ear pleaser. Beyond the track-by-track analyzation, I always listen to the whole album first without much thinking. At this level of listening, the album either sounds good or it doesn’t (or somewhere in between). Bayis Neeman sounds good, plain and simple. The sound quality is excellent, the arrangements feel right and the songs are catchy. Werdyger’s vocal performance is smooth, clean and quite delicious. One thing that is immediately evident is that it is not over-arranged. Arranger Shua Fried wisely realized that when you have great songs and an awesome vocalist, adding the gimmicks so commonly found in many albums would only detract. In my experience it takes alot of humility to leave space in music for others to stand out, so kudos to Fried for his humility working on this album. Yisroel Werdyger does well to keep with his natural “Poylisher Reid”. I’ve always found with MBD (Yisroel Werdyger’s uncle) that, as spectacular as he sounds, I always most enjoyed his Yiddish songs and the occasional one he sings in his natural Poylisher accent. It just sounds so much more real and the emotion shines out so much better. Yisroel has obviously picked up on this and his choice results is a unique heart-felt album with an authentic Haymishe feel.
Getting in a little deeper, the songs are overall extremely well written. Even the weaker songs on this album are only so relative to the other great gems featured here. The melodies are catchy and memorable. The lyrics are another major highlight of this album. Besides for maybe a couple of tracks, they dug deep for new and meaningful lyrics for their compositions. They obviously spared no effort in attaining and assessing the songs used and the product is an album where almost every song is spectacular and even the fillers are not half bad by any standard.
The arrangements are overall excellent, though a few have the overused Jewish music cliche sound. I would hope for Shua Fried to completely stray from the set and ready sound since he has so much of his own unique talent to give, as evidenced by the vast majority of his work on this album. The sound quality is top notch. I was very impressed with the work of the engineering, mixing and mastering team. I especially appreciated the drums, which those of you with any recording experience know, is usually by far the hardest instrument to record, mix and master. They really managed to fully capture the full timbre and ambient resonance of every beat, which is…well, quite a feat. In an article for The Jewish Entertainment Magazine (Dec ’07 I think), Sruly Meyer (who incidentally designed the cover to Bayis Neeman, more on that later) writes: “If you want the album to sound truly magnificent you have to spend real money… to make a good album you need all the right ingredients…and they need to be added at the right times”. If his statement holds true, it is obvious that Aderet spared no expense to get all the right ingredients and add them at the right times because this album is truly magnificent.
I don’t usually mention covers, but that’s usually because quite frankly they are not worth mentioning. They are usually not much to look at – a one color, graded background with the artist name and album title splashed across it in Hebrew and/or English. I always found them so lacking compared to the work and ingenuity that go into most secular albums. Bayis Neeman breaks the mold with its eye catching and well thought out blueprint inspired cover. From the moment I picked up the CD case to the moment I finished reading the cover insert, it was obvious to me that a lot of work had gone into making a cover that was a stand-alone work of art. I was therefore not surprised to see the “Designs by Sruly” logo on the back of the case. As with every other aspect of this album, they hired the best of the best for the cover. For those of you not familiar with Sruly’s work, he is Sameach’s in-house graphic designer and a known name to most Jewish music insiders. Let’s just say that if you’ve ever had your head turned by an eye-catching ingenious poster for HASC, Shea Rubinstein, Dovid Gabay and many others – you’ve met him. I did some digging and found some great info on just how much went into this design and I think it worthwhile to check it out on his blog (http://www.designsbysruly.com/Blog/?p=43).
Now for the song by song breakdown:
BAYIS NEEMAN B’YISROEL
An awsome psychadelic intro leads into a true rocker. Shua Fried did an excellent job not losing the Heymishe feel despite the rock foundation of the arrangement. Werdyger is in perfect rhythm and the fresh original lyrics are sure to please. The brass is used sparingly to ensure the guitar rhythm section is not over-shadowed. The choir sounds too familiar but all in all this one’s a big hit. This is the type of song that sticks easily in your brain. You find yourself humming it all day helping to put more spring in your step.
This one is one of the weaker songs of the album, with a melody that doesn’t move much as compared to most the others. The arrangement here falls short of Shua Fried’s capabilities with a “picky” sounding wah guitar played throughout that might as well have been copied and pasted straight out of MBD’s double album from circa 20 years ago. I don’t care much for the cliche sax solos either. At the end of the day though if it were on almost any other album, not a half bad song. I do like the lyrics though. Vocals are good and the guest vocals from Mendy Werdyger (Yisroel’s father) make it far from a complete loss.
The breathtaking opera intro and classical piano based arrangement here display Shua’s true abilities. The original Yiddish lyrics are flawlessly executed with perfect emotion by Werdyger. When I close my eyes while listening to this one, I feel like I’m sitting in the back of the Sorvosher Beis Medrash on a Friday night bringing in Shabbos with love for the One Above and complete peace of mind. This exceedingly beautiful song is sure to be a staple at my Shabbos table for a long time to come. I would have liked the boys choir to be a touch more front and forward, but still this song is huge.
Arrangement and melody wise it’s just ok compared with the others, but the lyrics here are very meaningful and fresh. Yisroel’s excellent rhythm help make this upbeat song fun enough to not skip over completely and the Teimani inspired beat is nice.
This is the true gem for me. It reminds the listener why people make such a big deal out of Yossi Green. The lyrics are nice, but more importantly the melody is hauntingly beautiful, moving constantly to unexpected ground. The arrangement here is like a spectacular movie soundtrack that takes you on a journey through your own heart and soul, a big Yasher Koiach for that, Shua. Yisroel’s emotional vocals are as haunting and graceful as the song itself. I would have liked the choir to sound less like every other album, but all in all this is one of the best songs I’ve heard in a very long time. The album would have been worth it even for this one song alone.
Simple arrangement, but I think perfect for the song. It’s a nice classic Chassidic niggun simcha with Werdyger, who is no stranger to singing for simchas, quite in his element. Not spectacular, but a quite a good song and worth listening… and maybe even dancing to.
As used as these lyrics are, they never seem to get old for me. Especially when accompanied by a melody as beautiful as this. Arrangements are very nice and kept simple – which is perfect because it really allows Yisroel’s touching vocal performance to shine through. The choir is nice and not overdone. This song gets 2 thumbs up, 3 in Chernobyl.
The arrangement here again is a flashback to the 80s, with the way too often used wah guitar once more. I don’t get what Jewish music arrangers have with Singolda’s “picky-wah”? It was ok 20 years ago, but let’s move on. This song screams cliche in many ways but all in all, the song itself is pretty good and well sung. Not Yossi Green’s best – but hey, they can’t all be.
Excellent lyrics, nice simple arrangement. The song is very classic and maybe even old-school, but in the end very well written. As always, Werdyger’s emotional rendition along with Fried’s effort to help it shine, really makes the song. Wouldn’t mind a touch more originality on the choirs though.; All in all a very nice song though.
The verse is just ok, but the chorus here absolutely rocks. Not necessarily the most spectacular song, but that’s mostly relative to the rest of the album. The song is upbeat and while not the most memorable it is still a pretty good song.
Excellent chord progressions here and Fried is at the top of his game on this slower song. He skillfully displays here that a classic Jewish arrangement does not have to be at all boring. The intro and bridge melodies he uses are as inspiring as the melody of the song itself. Great lyrics and the vocal execution is right on target.
I see what they were going for, but the bass slide used throughout the song sounds like someone clearing his throat. Arrangements are overall ok, kind of like a Shlomo Artzi classic 70s sound. The guitar solos are fairly uninspired, but all in all a pretty good song. Considering that the last song on most albums are complete garbage, that’s nothing to complain about.
The final verdict: This is a top notch album. Yisroel Werdyger is at the top of his game as were the arranger, producer, engineers, etc. For a debut album this is completely spactacular and I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing alot more of this rising superstar. I highly recommend plunking down the $15 for this album – you will certainly not be dissapointed!
Until next time – Happy listening.
you can visit Mendel the Sheichet at www.myspace.com/thesheichet