Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kirvu–Rebecca Schwartz


Rebecca Schwartz is a gem. She has been successfully kirvucoverelevating simple, original songs to a whole new level. With each new album (this is her fourth Jewish album) it gets better. Rebecca’s first Jewish album, The Light of Shabbat, so fully showcases Rebecca’s gifts – her wide vocal range, sweet voice, excellent acoustic guitar playing skills, a gift for beautiful harmonies, and a striving for high production values, that I worried that her subsequent projects had no place left to go. Boy, was I wrong about that.

Her second Jewish album, Ahavah Rabah managed to layer more interesting arrangements and instrumentations on top of  all the previously mentioned positive attributes, and the same is true of P’tach Libi, her award-winning third album. Rebecca’s growth and maturation as a Jewish songwriter and performer has been fully evident, and this latest album continues the trend.

The opening song, Wherever You Go, I Will Go is a beautiful English retelling of the Ruth story that is quintessential Rebecca in style. It’s a great start to a great project.

It certainly takes guts for anyone to include a cover of a song like Leonard Cohen’s Halleluyah, although plenty of artists have done it.  Rebecca adds a new twist-although she’s not the first to try it- though I think it may be the first time it has been recorded this way-by squeezing in the full text of Psalm 150 into the melody.  All the times I’ve heard this done, it always seems a bit forced and clunky-sort of like that line from Tom Lehrer’s “Folk Song Army” about it not mattering if you “try to fit a couple of extra syllables into a line.”  Kudos, Rebecca, for trying – your voice is lovely, and Scott Leader’s always tasteful piano sets an appropriate mood.

I love Rebecca’s middle-eastern-flavored settings, and Dodi Li is an enchanting and charming example of that. I hope it finds widespread use as another useful, original setting of that text.

Yotzeir has a pretty melody (though I find it does little to advance the meaning of the words of the prayer. How can one sing or say “Mah rabu ma’asekha, Ad”nai” without some inflection that matches the question being asked/the statement being made?) Nevertheless, it’s a nice listen, and I expect it will find its way into use many worship settings.

Lamdeini comes closer to an appropriate musical setting for the text, as it’s a very soulful and spiritual melody. Yet for all its beauty, for me, at least, it doesn’t fully capture all the emotion behind Leah Goldberg’s passionate words. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful song, gracefully and elegantly sung. The flute accompaniment on this song is very tasteful and worthy of mention.

Courageous Warrior (Eyshet Chayil) is a beautiful and haunting song. While the song stands well on its own, you might consider asking Rebecca what inspired it – as it becomes even more powerful then.

You Are Near, is based, Rebecca tells us, on parashat B’shalach. It is prettily sung, though I daresay the sweet style of Rebecca’s voice is in contrast to the more rock feel of the arrangement.

Do we really need another Adonai S’fatai? Probably not, but this new setting from Rebecca works nicely, and will surely find its way into use in worship settings. Someday, though, I’d love to hear Rebecca re-record the song with a fuller, expanded arrangement.

Holy, Holy, Holy is another rock/pop setting in which Rebecca’s sweet voice contrasts with the arrangement. I suspect, however, that the song would work equally as well in both acoustic and rock settings.

Esa Einai is another beautiful melody, though perhaps not the right melody for this text. The abrupt ending on the words “me’atah v’ad olam” made me wonder why sing “from now until forever” and then just stop? (Consider classical settings of the words, from the Latin mass, “non erit finis.”) Or perhaps I just wanted to keep hearing more of Rebecca’s lovely voice?

David’s Niggun is fun and a pleasant listen. Without any repeats it’s quite short-not exactly how one usually hears a niggun. Another candidate for an more elaborate arrangement on a future recording.

The Y’varech’cha is the song that doesn’t quite work for me. It’s really just another chanted version of the text – a pretty one, to be sure, and listen-worthy. It doesn’t go anywhere, however, and I feel so much more could have been done with this. Another song to be redone at some point?

Only A Matter of Time (Remix) was originally heard on Rebecca’s award winning 2009 album Pt’ach Libi. This is a much more fully-realized version, and works just as well as the simpler, original version. Again, I wish Rebecca’s voice was a bit more hard-edged in keeping with the more hard-hitting arrangement.

I would be remiss in my comments if I did not give a shout out to Scott Leader for his always professional producing, recording, and playing. It shows on this album as it does on every project with which he is associated.

Now that I’ve been really nit-picky about the album, allow me to say I think it’s a solid effort, and a worthy successor to her previous three Jewish albums. I don’t want this to be a capstone to her work, and I hope Rebecca will continue to grow in ways that will make her next album even better! To do so, she’s going to have to stretch a bit more than she did here. Go for it, Rebecca.

Kirvu is available on iTunes, CDBaby, OySongs, Amazon, or (non-digitally) direct from Rebecca’s website.

©2013 by Adrian A. Durlester

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