Review by Keith Wolzinger
JDUB Records, 2008
CD available from JDUB Records
DeLeon is the self-titled debut album of the Sephardic Indie-rock band led by Dan Saks. The group’s progressive sound is instantly ingrained on the listener from the first note of the album. The concept of the album is fresh and distinctive, while still managing to retain the essence of the Sephardic experience. By using complex Spanish and middle-Eastern percussion and electronic rhythms along with Ladino, Hebrew, and English lyrics, DeLeon brings the Sephardic culture to the forefront of the urban Jewish music scene. By changing languages within the songs, DeLeon not only appeals to a broader audience, but also adds authenticity and respect for the culture behind the music.
I was immediately drawn to this musical genre so well defined by DeLeon. While the vocals are great, I like the way the Electric Guitar lines mix with the Keyboard electronic effects, the strong Percussion rhythms, and Spanish-infused Trumpet. The opening song, "Yodukha Rayonai," is the probably the best known on the album. It is Percussion-driven and sets the tone for the album right from the opening notes in the Electric Guitar. This is contrasted nicely with the Piano lines between the vocals.
If there were a title track for the album, I would have to say it would be "La Serena." For me, this song gets to the heart of DeLeon. It has all the elements that make the group great. It again starts with strong Percussion, Ladino and English lyrics, and Guitar. Then Trumpet is added to reinforce the rhythm. Toward the end the song changes style completely. There is a harmonized vocal, and 80’s style keyboard effects with matching trumpet licks.
Later on the album, "La Ner V’Livsamim" very cleverly opens with a Nign of "Yodukha Rayonai" and adds the main theme to it. Then the lyric takes over along with Guitar and Keybord. I liked the cool echo effect on the Vocal, too.
My favorite track of all is "Be Still, Angelino." It is in 6/8 time and has a Spanish modality, plus a strong hook in the chorus along with some great Trumpet and Guitar lines. The band takes over near the end, with the Guitar and Drums building right to the last note.
"Almond Trees" is all in English and has more of a Pop song style. Saks carries this song off very well with the tag line “For you I would give my life.” I keep singing it to myself even after the song is over.
Shifting gears, "Rahelika Baila" adds some cool Keyboard sounds and a remixed vocal. It has the sound effect of an old scratchy 78 record. The Ladino lyric is matched in the Guitar and nice Bass line.
The band exchanges Banjo for the Guitar on the lively "La Vida Do Por El Raki." The fast tempo and signature Spanish harmony combine to make this another favorite song. I like the stop time section in the middle, too.
"Sa’ Dawi" is the most unusual song. It is an instrumental piece that features the Guitar. The first section feels middle-Eastern, then after a short Nign in the middle switches to a contemporary feel for the rest of the song. DeLeon is very good at style changes within the songs. It keeps the listener involved in the music by implying “If your attention wanders you’ll miss something cool.”,p>Ok, I have to admit to another favorite track. "Porke Yorach" has all the elements of a great song. It is a ballad sung in both Ladino and English, and features the beautiful voice of Amy Crawford. She and Saks deliver rich, flowing vocals, with beautiful harmony. Just the right amount of electronics in the accompaniment along with a very tasteful Trumpet solo adds to the emotion of this love song. For me, this is the centerpiece of the album.
The audio quality of the album is excellent. The attention to detail is evident, and the instruments and vocals are well balanced. The vocal effects give DeLeon its special flair, with long tail reverb and echo used in a very artistic way.
I like DeLeon very much. The combination of languages in the lyrics and changing musical textures makes this a very enjoyable album. The musicianship is at a very high level and you can tell they are having fun performing the music. I highly recommend this album. DeLeon is on to something special and I look forward to seeing what direction they will go in the future.
Reviewed by Keith Wolzinger, Klezmer Podcast, 15 Nov 2008.
Personnel this recording:
Dan Saks: Vocals, Guitar, Banjo
Kevin Snider: Bass, Vocals
Justin Riddle: Drums
Amy Crawford: Keys, Vocals
Andrew Oom: Trumpet
- Yodukha Rayonai
- La Serena
- Adio Querido
- La Ner V Livsomim
- Be Still, Angelino
- A La Una Yo Naci
- Almond Trees
- Rahelika Baila
- La Vida Do Por El Raki
- Porke Yorach
- En El Cafe