Shelley Posen / Menorah
Review by Keith Wolzinger
Menorah—Songs From A Jewish Life, 2007
available from Shelley Posen, 2007
Don't be misled by the title. Menorah is not an album of Chanukah songs, but a truly remarkable collection of original songs about Posen's observations of Jewish Life. When I received the CD I didn't listen to it right off. I spent some time first with the 28-page booklet that comes with it. I found that reading through the booklet helped prepare me for the truly inspired music I was about to hear.
In the booklet's introduction, Posen explains that the album title comes from a treasured family Menorah that was handed down from his grandmother to his mother and finally to him. It's not really about the Menorah, though, but about how it binds together the generations of his family. And it is done in such a way that is both moving and joyous. Full lyrics and song notes are included and a Glossary of Terms is available on his website.
As I read through the booklet, the lyrics' poetry and depth of feeling resonated with me. The humorous songs are very clever and the more serious songs convey a deep love of family and Jewish tradition.
The music is very well done, with styles taken from many different genres. One of my favorite songs, "Street Corner Havdalah," is done in a perfect do-wop style, and is a tribute to Dion and the Belmonts. Check out the 4-part harmony, especially at the end of the song.
Another favorite is "Will Their Children Light The Candles," Posen's Klezmer-styled song about his concern whether or not his future grandchildren (and all of ours as well) will maintain a Jewish identity, observing the holidays and traditions, or abandon it for an assimilated life. This song includes my friends, the Toronto-based band Beyond The Pale, and adds an authenticity that perfectly matches the sentiment of the lyrics.
One of the more clever songs is "Home For Shabbes," a song about New York Jews rushing home on the subway on Friday afternoon, worried about arriving before Shabbes begins. Beyond The Pale joins again for this mashup of Klezmer-meets-Gilbert and Sullivan. It's great fun!
Posen's loving tributes to his mother are evident in "Fork Garden," "My Mother's Old Menorah," and "Angels To The Light." I won't go into detail here, but trust me, these pull at the heartstrings and are the the real gems to be found here.
On the humorous side, there is "Dim Sum (or,"One in a Minyan)", about an Orthodox Jew seeking out a tenth man in a local Chinese restaurant. (What better place to look?) "Cholent" is a blues/shuffle about the traditional Shabbes dish. (This song got my daughter's attention, as she gets to sample Cholent every year at Jewish Camp. It's her favorite song.) The food theme continues with "Everybody Loves Shabbes But The Chickens," done in a March style. The chickens wonder if we might like something else as a meal for a change? And, "Finders Kippers," a bluegrass tribute to a favorite breakfast dish.
Also on the album are songs of a more liturgical nature. "Eliyahu" is a Klezmer prayer for Eliyahu to return at Pesach, dedicated to the Jews of York, England, in the year 1190. "Shepherd" is a Caribbean-style song about biblical heroes who were shepherds for a time. "Ani Adam" is a beautiful Hebrew vocal duet with a delicate instrumental and choir background.
Lastly, there is "A Scottish Tale of Purim," a short standup comedy story spoken by Posen, recorded at a live event.
I like Posen's singing style very much. He reminds me of Tom Lehrer, able to deliver humor, reverence, and sentimentality with equal skill. The background musicians and vocalists are outstanding, and the arrangements by Paul Mills and Martin van de Ven are a highlight. Mills also had his hand in the fine engineering on the album, handling the Producing, Recording, and Mixing duties.
Menorah is a joy to listen to.I like the varied music styles, but keeping the Jewish/Klezmer tradition alive as well. The singing and musicianship are top notch, the arrangements are thoughtful, the album "sounds" great, and the booklet is quite well done. It is clear that much love and dedication has been poured into this album. Posen's Menorah is as much a gift to us as his mother's Menorah is a gift to him.
Reviewed by Keith Wolzinger, Oct 30, 2007
- Dim Sum (or One in a Minyan)
- Street Corner Havdala
- Fork Garden
- Everyone Loves Shabbes but the Chickens
- A Scottish Tale of Purim
- My Mother's Old Menorah
- Angels to the Light
- Finders, Kippers
- Will Their Children Light the Candles
- Home for Shabbes
- Ani Adam