Cross-posted from the Teruah Jewish Music Blog
Review by Jack Zaeintz
Monday, August 31, 2009
I'm listening to Abby Gostein's "Each Blessing" right now. I've got a lot to say, but am not sure where to start. How do you review an album this is as much an advertisement for sheet music as a recording to be listened to? How about this....
This past Shabbat I went to Kabbalat Shabbat services at the local Reform synagogue. Not as a guest, but as a member. Yep. I'm a life-long Conservative Jew who recently became a member of a Reform synagogue. I'm not going to get into why I switched membership from the local Conservatice synagogue, it was just time for a change. (For the record, I also will be davening regularly at the local Chabbad house too). I was pretty impressed by how much traditional (by my standards) Hebrew liturgy was part of the service. I also enjoyed the contemporary English readings in the new Mishkan Tefillah. They're direct and meaningful, if a bit vague about God and Torah. Sitting there I felt recharged and happy.
When I sit back in my chair, Gostein's "Each Blessings" playing through my headphones, I'm right back there. Her gentle vocals and piano playing pick up the quiet warmth of the service and her more driving pieces are invigorating and make me want to sing along. Just right for a contemporary Reform service.
And that's the point of the album, right? Gostein describes it as ....
"Contemporary Jewish music, moving and accessible, with memorable melodies and riveting harmonies; prayer and blessing settings intended to be flexible in nature and easily usable by cantor or soloist, congregation and/or choir"
This isn't music for a concert, for listening to a car, or even for listening to over headphones in a comfy chair (though I've happily done the latter two already and would go to a Gostein concert if given a chance). It's for singing in a group. At synagogue. That's what the albums for. If you go to her website she's got lyric sheets ready, and if you want the sheet music, she's got it.
As long time readers might remember, I've always had mixed feelings about Reform style songleader recordings. Part of it, I'm realizing, is that since I'd never been to a service that included them it was hard to understand their natural home. Part of it, though, is that I've often found them to be underwhelming rehashes of 1970's folk-pop with shallow feel good lyrics. Gostein's album, though, manages to avoid those traps. While some nod back to the 1970's, others pick up much more current musical influences and rhythms. There's drive and passion, but it never overwhelms. It creates a sound that is timeless, not dated.
Good stuff. Really.
And an album that I'll hand off to my choir director next Friday.
* Update: Sigh. Another fact-checking goof. Abby just emailed me to let me know that while she loves the piano playing too, she can't take credit for it. Scott Leader, Jewish musician and proprietor of Southwest Studios, played piano on most of the album (including the two tracks above). Martha Mortensen Dudgeon took over the keys for the last two tracks. Dudgeon is an Austin pianist and artistic director of the Austin Chamber Ensemble. Thanks for the update Abby