Category Archives: Rock and Roll

The End of an Empire is Messy at Best

Run, don’t walk to grab Randy Newman new collection of tunes “Harps and Angels” – a snarky bunch of songs about the state of the post-9/11 union. If RN was crotchety as a young man, boy, just check out the middle-aged version. These are nasty songs designed to keep you sane.

One quibble: the album version of his version of the brilliant “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country” is inexplicably set to a goofy country-music orchestration that lightens it up way to much. I much prefer the simple, lacerating version he released on iTunes last year. (Check out his performance above).

The end of an empire is messy at best
This empire is ending, like all the rest
Like the Spanish Armada drifting on the sea
We’re drifting in the land of the brave and the home of the free
Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye…

Gonna Be a Long Walk Home…

Caught the Bruce Springsteen concert in Milwaukee Monday night. Now granted, as a fairly rabid fan who’s lost count of how many Bruce concerts I’ve attended, I will admit that I lack a certain objectivity on this particular subject, but even so this was one of the really, really good ones. Good lord, even as he is pushing sixty, the man is performing with a passion and intensity that is truly inspirational.

There was much to love about this concert – he busted out some rarities and even brought out legendary jazz bassist Richard Davis for a gorgeous “Meeting Across the River.” (If you are a fan too, check out the concert review and setlist here on Backstreets.com.) Though I always love the old Bruce standards, what I really reached me was the material from his latest album, “Magic” – a collection of great, danceable tunes that soberly address the perils of living in America during the Iraq War era.

At the concert, he introduced the title song thus, “Here’s to the end of eight years of bad magic tricks:”

I got a shiny saw blade
All I need’s a volunteer
I’ll cut you in half
While you’re smilin’ ear to ear
And the freedom that you sought
Driftin’ like a ghost amongst the trees
This is what will be, This is what will be

You don’t have to be a Bruce expert to observe that he’s has grown more courageous in his willingness to address critical political issues more directly through his music in recent years. Some of his songs have an even deeper resonance now than when they were first written. It’s remarkable, for instance, to hear the prophetic lyric of “Lonesome Day,” written in the wake of 9/11 and almost a year before the US invasion of Iraq:

Better ask questions before you shoot
Deceit and betrayal’s bitter fruit
It’s hard to swallow, come time to pay
That taste on your tongue don’t easily slip away

My personal favorite from the new album – and one that he and the band played with even greater intensity in concert than on the record – is “Long Walk Home.” This one definitely gets my vote for our new national anthem:

My father said “Son, we’re lucky in this town,
It’s a beautiful place to be born.
It just wraps its arms around you,
Nobody crowds you and nobody goes it alone”

“Your flag flyin’ over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone.
Who we are, what we’ll do and what we won’t”

It’s gonna be a long walk home
Hey pretty darling, don’t wait up for me
Gonna be a long walk home

As I was jumping around in an arena full of delirious middle aged fans, I realized how important Springsteen’s music has been to me over the years. His songs kept me sane during High School in the 70’s and wouldn’t you know it, they continue to do the same for me during the turbulent Bush years…

(Click above for a great clip of Bruce and Davis’ duet from the concert.)

We Can Work It Out

beatles_narrowweb__300x3710.jpgDid you know that The Beatles were scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv in 1965, but Israeli government leaders nixed the tour for fear the Fab Four would “corrupt” Zionist youth?

Well, me neither. But get this: Israel is now trying to atone for their, shall we say, “ill-advised” decision. According to news reports, Israeli Ambassador to Britain Ron Prosor was expected to meet with John Lennon’s sister at The Beatles museum in Liverpool and to present her with an official letter of apology from the State of Israel.

Click here for the lowdown…

One Rabbi’s Christmas Confession

6618a.jpgOK, I admit it: I love to listen to Christmas songs this time of year.

I’ll leave it to you to determine if that makes me a bad Jew or a worse rabbi, but what can I say? I’ve got a major weakness for the ol’ seasonal standards.

Now I’m not talking about Christmas carols or overtly religious hymns (nor do I mean X-mas novelty kitsch like “Barking Dog Jingle Bells” or “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”) No, I’m really, truly a sucker for those aching, melancholy Christmas ballads.

I’m sure you know the ones – they actually come in various sub-genres. There are the “It’s Christmas and I’m Sad Because We’ve Broken Up” songs (i.e. “Christmas/Baby Please Come Home” or “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”) Then there are the “It’s Christmas and I’m Not Able To Make it Home” songs (i.e. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” or “White Christmas”) and there’s the “This May Be the Last Christmas We Ever Spend Together” songs (i.e. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”)

Is it perverse or at all sacreligious for a rabbi to be confessing his love for songs such as these? I dunno, don’t you think there’s something of a Jewish quality to them? Maybe it’s their quasi-exilic yearning (not to mention the fact that most of them were written by Jews anyhow.)

So that’s my seasonal guilty pleasure confession. And lest you judge me too quickly here, just take the test yourself. Check out James Taylor’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” as sung by Sarah McLachlan. (Man, that last line gets me every time…)

My Israeli Music Pix

Some of the Israeli tunes I’ve been listening to since I’ve returned…

When I was in Tel Aviv, I made a beeline for Tower Records and picked up the first two Israeli releases by The Idan Raichel Project. Raichel is a musical phenom who has been extremely popular in Israel for some time, but has only recently introduced to American ears. He’s a multi-talented keyboardist, composer, producer and singer, whose musical “project” involves over 70 different musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds and he produces an amazingly rich musical synthesis of Israel’s ethnic diversity. While Raichel highlights Ethiopian music and musicians prominently, his songs also feature Arab musicians, traditional Yemenite vocalists, a percussionist from Suriname and a South African singer, among others.

Unlike most Israeli popular music, which is for me too often a mediocre rehashing of Western style rock and pop, Raichel’s music represents an attempt to create an authentically Israeli style by bringing together the unique musical traditions of a uniquely multi-ethnic Israeli culture. (I know I’m making his music sound like an anthropology dissertation here, but trust me, this is eminently listenable and often beautiful music.)

If you’re new to Idan Raichel, I’d recommend his 2006 American-released CD which is a “best-of” collection from their first two albums. While you are at it, click above to see the video of his song, “Mi’Ma’amakim.” (Even more exciting: according to his MySpace site, he’s coming stateside this fall – I hear his performances are not to be missed.)

Pick #2: While I was at Ben-Gurion and preparing for my flight home, I wandered into the Duty Free shop and I noticed the latest CD by Habreira Hativit– an Israeli group that I haven’t listened to in years. Habreira is led by great Shlomo Bar, a Moroccan-born Israeli, and has long been creating exciting Israeli music that combines Eastern Jewish cultural influences. I became a devoted fan after seeing them in concert in LA in the early 1980s, and I confess I didn’t know Habreira was still alive and kicking. I’m delighted to become reacquainted with their new lineup and their latest music. (Click below for the video of their song,”Da’re,” from their recent album, “Low Clouds.”)

Everybody Jump!

Woo hoo!!! I had the very good fortune to catch the Balkan Beat Box concert last night at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. I don’t get out to the clubs an awful lot, but boy am I glad I caught this particular gig – they did not disappoint!

For the uninitiated, here is a description of BBB, cribbed from their MySpace site:

Balkan Beat Box is steeped with an intense lifetime of research into their own non-Western roots as well as other cultures. A quasi-circus event, BBB performs with a core of 6 musicians, collaborating with artists from Bulgaria, Morocco, Spain, Israel, and Turkey who draw on a variety of styles from around the world. Every event keeps the audience guessing what the next surprise will be.

BBB makes connections that politics often keep separate. Jewish, Gypsy, Arabic, and American are united by hip hop beats and dancehall toasts. BBB’s musical hitch-hiking continues as they mix things up with dub and electronics, juxtaposed with ancient Moroccan and Mediterranean melodies. The band’s uncategorizable sound gives equal weight to soulful acoustic timbres and digital rhythms creating a uniquely organic sound with electronic elements.

Yep, that pretty much sums ’em up. And it’s true: BBB is one of those acts that you must absolutely see live to get the full effect of their artistry. This band is clearly at the height of its musical power – this was one of the best concerts I’ve seen in a long time in any genre (make that multi-genre…)

Last night was the final stop on their current tour, but don’t pass up the chance to see them on their next go around. In the meantime, check out their great new album, “Nu-Med” or click below for a clip of them performing in Europe. (That’s the chronically shirtless, indefatigable lead singer Tomer Yosef singing “Ramallah Tel Aviv,” the song that closed last night’s show.)

(Eternal thanks to Adam Davis and the good folks at Kfar Jewish Arts Center for bringing BBB to town!)