Like many people, I picked this album up last year assuming a Chanuka collection. There are a couple of Chanuka-inspired songs on the album: Someone named Marc Cohn does a lovely, gritty, expressive English version of "Maoz Tsur," (Rock of Ages). And the album concludes with a vapid "Lighting up the world" by Peter Himmelman & David Broza. The latter person is an Israeli musician of particular appeal to American Jewish women of college age, much as Leonard Cohen appealed to an earlier generation. Many folks of male persuasion, such as myself, remain blind to any charm. Elsewhere, a group called "Alitsut" does a piece clearly inspired by the holiday, and Jane Siberry does her "Shir Amami" (a song that can at least claim that it belongs to the season, as it is both of Hebrew origin, and a part of her Christmas show, which I heard performed last night).
The rest of the album consists largely of a curious, but often interesting collection of music of no apparent religious significance, but often pleasant (sometimes damn good) nonetheless. The Klezmatics check in with their "Dybbuk Shers," Don Byron is present with "Oi Tata". A less-interesting-than usual John Zorn checks in with the "Masada String Trio" doing "Bikkurim".
The liner notes indicate that some of the instrumentals are present because of one of the musician's Jewish connection. John Leventhal, with a group called "The Mels" (him and Rick Depofo) does a pleasant enough instrumental that he describes as coming from that part of his upbringing (Jewish father, Catholic mother) inspired by his father's culture. In this sense. This approach, too, is potentially interesting, although of only most tenuous connection to the Jewish "Festival of Lights." It does serve as an excuse to bring together a most diverse group of songs and musicians, many of whom will be new to almost anyone listening to the album.
Where the album crosses the line into crass and troubling, however, is in the inclusion of the Sabbath kiddush ("Kiddush Le-Shabbat") by The Covenant, and by Bruce Berger's (Rebbe Soul) performance of Avinu Malkenu, an important and powerful prayer from the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) service. To a lesser extent, the Israeli folk song, "Erev Shel Shoshanim" is also part of this displacement. These songs belong to very specific Jewish traditions and places, none of which are part of the Chanuka celebration (although there will be at least one Sabbath during each Hanukkah season). At the point where all Jewish celebrations and traditions get shoved together as "the same thing" and therefore relevant to the specific "Festival of lights" season, this album becomes a stupid marketing gimmick and offensive.
I have to assume that the people who put together this compilation saw the variety of Jewish and Jewish-inspired expression without realizing that it isn't all appropriate for a Hanukkah album, or for the Hanukkah season. But that merely explains. It doesn't justify. This mishmosh is still ignorance begetting trivialization for the purpose of commercialization. As I said earlier, the result can be summarized as "offensive." I would give this album an entirely different review were it honestly packaged. As "Festival of Light" it is a ripoff. I can think of no reason to support such an endeavor.
reviewed by Ari Davidow, 12/5/97
- Marc Cohn