Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Menucha



Artist’s web site: Menucha.com

Album can be previewed/purchased at Mostly Music.com

Reviewer: Mindy


When I first started writing this review, this was the first paragraph of the first draft:

“My last few reviews have taken way too long to write (at least an hour) and some have also created a furor of sorts. So I decided not to write such a detailed review, and not to rate the songs, since they are my personal opinion. I will just tell you in brief what to expect with the Menucha album. It’s not such a little known album like some of the others I’ve reviewed til now, and we’ve discussed it plenty. So I think a short review will be enough to give you a glimpse of the album.”

But guess what. The review ended up taking way more than the standard 2 hours, and I dissected all the songs to bits. So I guess the above disclaimer is not in order. This is a regular review like any other : ). I just kept to my promise and didn’t rate the songs, because the rating system is a bit skewed and gives a wrong impression at times. It’s up to you to rate the songs for yourself; this is just my personal opinion of what I thought of the songs as I went along listening to it.

First a few preliminaries:

This album is by no means a Chevra II. This is meant to be soul music, Shalsheles-style. I would go as far as to say that the sound generated by Menucha is definitely a second Shalsheles. The vocals are really gorgeous, the harmonies exquisite, and the song are certainly soothing and “menucha’dik.” One factor which I like a lot about this album is that it has choir work, whereas the Chevra did not. There definitely is a large market for this type of tape. A lot of people like this style. It’s bichlal a new trend that the cd’s have a lot of slow songs and just a few fast ones – look at Shalsheles II, Lishuascha Kivinu, Emes – everyone is into “slow” and “heartzig” today. Eli really knows how to follow the tastes of the consumers and fill them.

A few words on the singers, which I’ve gleaned from the magazine articles, my Menucha connections, and my listening experience.

Danny Berkowitz (formerly of “Koleynu” which never materialized,) lives in Monsey (according to the Lifestyles magazine) and is a hatzalah member. His father is Jerry Berkowitz, formerly of the Homowack. Danny has the low voice on the album. This is the first time that Eli has a rougher type of voice on a cd. All of his other voices have been almost feminine, soft and breezy. Danny does a lot of melody on the album. Although he doesn’t seem to have a very high range, he does do a couple of high parts here and there. He does a great job especially when he starts off the songs.

Avi Schachter is from Queens, and he actually found the gig through this very group. Last year, Yossi Sharf wrote on the board that Eli is still looking for Menucha people. Avi read it here, contacted Yossi, then tried out, and Eli was immediately smitten by his voice. He does have an AMAZING voice – it’s very sweet and high but deep at the same time, very Boruch Aryeh-style. Even though he is not Boruch Aryeh’s nephew but Shlomo is, he has the BA like voice. Lol, go figure. It might take you a few minutes to get used to his voice. He has the really distinctive voice on the album. You can’t miss it. He does a lot of the high harmonies and shtick on the album, and all the LALALALAs. As a matter of fact, his nickname among the group is Avi “LaLa” Schachter – lol. He’s also the group “leader” and everyone’s great friend. : -) He sings with a ton of gefeel. You’ll see.

Shlomo Schwed is from Lawrence, the youngest member of the group, and in an out of town Yeshiva. He is Boruch Aryeh’s nephew. His younger brother sings on the album, and his other brother sings on Ari Goldwag’s tape. He also has an extremely sweet voice and he hits crazy high notes on the album. It took me a while to distinguish his voice from Avi’s during the high harmonies. I don’t know where it is, but somewhere on the album he hit a High E. Eli nicknamed him “High E”. Although I know very little about music, I’m sure this is a major accomplishment. He’s also supposed to be a fun guy, according to what Danny wrote on the insert, which I’ll tell you about later.

Doniel Waldman lives in Far Rockaway. He is married and has a son. He is nicknamed the “Mashgiach” of the group. He is a serious kollel yungerman and involved in kiruv. He does a lot of the melody on the album. (But then again, all four of them do a lot of melody.) He also has a sweet and soft voice. He wrote something on the credits about Eli working on his high harmonies, but I didn’t find any of his harmonies on the tape, so I don’t know that that was supposed to mean… lol.

Here’s a cute little tidbit about Menucha/Chevra which you might like. Isn’t it funny how all the chevra and menucha members share the same 4 names? You have Avi Katz and Avi Schachter, David Pearlman and Dovid Nachman, Donny Baitner, Danny Berkowitz, and Doniel Waldman, and Shlomo Schwed (and ex-Shloime K.) The names have basically been offshoots of Avi, Dovid, Doniel, and Shlomo all along. Isn’t that funny? And kinda cute too.

The Menucha group are great friends. Since they did a lot of recording together for choir and stuff, they saw each others plenty and became a real “chevra” – oops, did I say chevra? Okay, whatever : )

A few words on the album cover:

I am not very impressed by the cover design. Light blue and white are probably meant to inspire serenity, but it’s nothing dazzling. The credits are pretty fascinating to read though. Danny Berkowitz writes a long megillah in which he thanks half the world, and it’s amazing how many connections he actually has! Some of the familiar-sounding people he thanks are: Avraham Solomon (whom I mistakened for Danny and kept emailing about Menucha – LOL), Gershon Veroba, “Flakey” Jake Strauss, Shmuel “Bodey” Bodenheimer, Lou Shapp, Elchonon Majeski, Simcha Sussman, Gaby Betesh & the Homowack, Yo Eisenstark, Yitzy Waldner, Sruli Williger, Yaakov Gifter, Boruch Chiya Aryeh, Yeedle Werdyger, Shloime Dachs, Pinny from Hoffy’s, Shloime Ash and family, Nachum Segal… whoa. And we thought Yossi Sharf had connections. Lol. The print is so tiny I can barely make out half the names. He he. I love the way Danny describes his fellow Menucha-mates. He kids Doniel about his matching name, he calls Avi the GPS of the group, and as for Shlomo, “Your serious side comes out when you sing, but the rest of the time… better watch out!” The other three guys thank the requisite parents, family, ribono shel olam, Eli and the rest of Menucha, etc. Avi actually thanks Mindy and the JM Group, so yes guys, we are all on the Menucha cover! Cool or what? Shaleim, Lishuascha, and now Menucha. Shlomo thanks his Aryeh grandparents and his aunt and uncle Boruch and Michal Aryeh. If I’m not mistaken, Shlomo actually uses a smiley face :-) in his credits – and I don’t think he even has an Internet connection! Lol. Doniel also thanks Shloime Dachs and Simcha Sussman, and of course his wife and son. Eli’s portion is mamish word for word from V’ishay Yisroel (believe it or not, I compared the two!).

Okay, now on to the songs themselves….

Since the majority of the songs here are slow, it took me a while to like some of them and to fully love the tape in general. The songs I fell in love with right away were: Naturally, track 1 – which I’m still smitten with -- and tracks 2, 6 and 8. By now, I really love almost every single song, including tracks 4, 5, 7, and 10 (sorry, Dovid.) The only songs I’m still not crazy about are tracks 3 and 9, which are the ‘fast’ songs. I will not be rating the songs, just explaining them. If you pay close attention, you will learn to differentiate between the voices yourself pretty soon.

1. Uva L’Tziyon

This track is undoubtedly the hit track on the cd. I love the music, the beat, and the various different twists and shticks thrown into it. The first time I heard it on Segal, I was immediately WOWED by this song, and I still can’t get enough of it, even though I heard it non stop for several weeks after it was first aired. This is hands-down, my favorite track on the album.

Here is the order of the vocals:

It starts out very similar to Yehay, as in the first part is the four guys singing a few bars each, with intro music to follow. The order is: Shlomo, Doniel, Avi, Danny.

After the intro, (which as I said, reminds me of Lfonov Naavoid by MBD), Danny starts out with the low part, and Shlomo does the second low. Avi does the first high, followed by Doniel doing the second high. After the second intro, there is some very good choir work and Danny doing melody with the choir backing him up amazingly. Here, Danny ends off his piece on a very nice high note. The choir continues on with some gorgeous harmonies, and then Avi comes in, again with some REALLY GOOD choir work in the background. There’s more choir work, with awesome harmonies, and then the fun starts. There’s some really shticky stuff going on there, stuff I haven’t heard before. Avi does a great high harmony here, followed by Shlomo doing some oooh-oooh’s and Avi some la-la-la’s. It’s kinda hard to explain, but it’s AMAZING when you hear it. After that is a short acapella piece – and omg can these guys do acapella – they smoke it! Shlomo does another melody shtickel, and then the whole choir is together, with Shlomo doing an INSANE high harmony! Is this the High E they were talking about? I don’t know. The song ends the way it started, in the order of Shlomo, Doniel, Avi, Danny, and then all four together: Uva Ltzion Goel!

Wow. What a song. I knew I wouldn’t rate it, but this song deserves an 11…. Okay I wont rate the rest of the songs, let me keep to my promise.

2. Vaani Sefilosi

Very nice, moving slow song. It starts with Akiva Schwed doing a solo. I thought at first that he’s like 13-14 bcz his voice is a little older, and I thought he can’t hit any high notes, until someone pointed out his harmonies in this song to me… wow.

Shlomo does the first low, and Avi does the first high. Then Shlomo does the second high. The second time around, Danny does the first low part, and Doniel does the second low part. Avi ends this part on a very high note, followed by choir work. Following this is my favorite part of the song. Danny does the high part, with Akiva doing some gorgeous, heartfelt harmonies on top of it. (I was sure it was Avi, but it’s Akiva….) Right before Shlomo does the next high part, with what it probably Akiva again doing the harmony for it, there’s a very pretty piece of harmony which is Avi again. Avi then does a nice sweet pleasant la la la, which he ends in “Aneini B’Emes Yishecha” on a very high note. WOW. It’s a really beautiful song.

3. V’Atah Kisvu

This is the Eli Gerstner attempt at a song like “Gadol” – not fast and yet not slow, more waltz-like. I am not crazy over this song, but it’s pretty good. The tune is simple and mellow, pleasant listening to your ears, I don’t think it’s a hit though.

Danny starts out the first low, and Doniel does the second low. Avi does the first high, and he uses the yeshivish “reish” instead of the letter “R”, as did Danny and Doniel, probably on Eli’s request. Shlomo, who does the second high, does not ascribe to this policy though. As I said, the tune is soft and mellow, and flows easily. The musical interlude is followed by the choir, with GORGEOUS harmonies done by Shlomo and/or Avi. Danny does a lot of melody here, with individual and choir harmonies. There’s some really pretty acapella towards the end, with only drums in the background. The harmonies on this song are MASSIVE! Avi has a piece towards the end, as does Shlomo. The song speeds up towards the end and ends in a very upbeat note.

4. Im Eshkochech

I have to admit that I didn’t like this song so much at first, but it definitely grew on me and I like it now. It starts off on an extremely low tone, and it’s hard to make out who starts the song, but I’m pretty sure it’s Shlomo. The singer is practically whispering and you can barely make out the tune. Danny with his more robust voice does the second part of the low part and it’s a little better. I find the low part to be a little too long and monotonous. Finally it starts going up, and I love the high part. Avi does the first high, with a lot of feeling. Doniel does the second high. Shlomo harmonizes with him, and it’s really nice. The second time around the song gets very shticky. All four singers take turns doing melody and harmony in a relatively short period of time; so fast that the vocals change one after the other and it’s a challenge to pinpoint who’s who! First it’s Danny on melody and Doniel and harmony, suddenly it’s Shlomo on harmony, and then it’s Doniel on melody and Avi on harmony and then Danny on harmony! The changeover is very smooth and I like this shtick. It goes on for the high part as well, ending in a dazzling choir act. Wow. So much goes on in this song, who would’ve thought? After the choir comes another piece by Shlomo, then another melody/harmony shtick with Danny doing melody and Avi and Shlomo alternating with harmonies. Very complex and beautiful to the ear. This is followed by a STUNNING piece by Shlomo, full of such heart and feeling it’s just palpable, followed by an equally stunning piece by Avi, ended by Doniel, and the choir together. WOW. The more I analyze and dissect these songs the more I see how much work was put into them and how beautiful they really are.

5. Yaancho

This is a pretty cool track. Even though I don’t like the idea of two slow songs in a row, everyone seems to be doing it these days. This is a very interesting song. It starts out with some GREAT a capella!! Wow, if you think the Chevra does good acapella, you gotta hear this.

Doniel starts off the song’s low part and Avi does the second low. I don’t like this portion very much… it’s much too low, and I don’t think Avi is suited for such low parts. Shlomo does the first high, and Danny does the second high, with some harmonies backing him up. The nah-nah-nah that they did acapella earlier is repeated, with everyone taking turns at melody and harmony. The second time around, I think it’s Shlomo that does the low part, followed by the choir. I still don’t like the low part so much. Then Shlomo and Avi do an awesome high part back to back, followed by more choir. Avi does the high part after the choir, and if I’m not wrong, he harmonizes with himself. The nah-nah-nah is redone again, and this part I REALLY like. Shlomo ends the song beautifully on several keys, then with an emphatic YAANCHO HASHEEEM!… stunning!

6. Yosis

I happen to like this song a lot. It’s a great hora. And it’s NOT remotely the same as Avner Levy’s yosis, sorry to whoever brought up the topic. I like the shticky part when they stop for a minute and take a breather.

The low parts are done by Danny, then Doniel. The high parts are done by Avi, then Shlomo. After the music, Avi does the next part an octave higher, and it’s very cool. I like the music a lot on this one. Suddenly the music stops, and you think the song is over, and starts up again! Shlomo does melody and there’s great choir work, then Doniel does the melody with the choir backing him up. There’s some AMAZING ah-hah-hahs in the choir, which I believe Avi and Shlomo take turns doing – awesome stuff. It’s hard to tell who the next melody is, but I believe it’s Shlomo. The song ends abruptly. Nice hora.

7. Kavey

This song is amazing, there is so much going on in it. Every minute something else happens, and you really have to keep on your toes and follow it.

It starts with Yehuda Davis singing the low part, and I really love this kid’s voice and gefeel. Danny does the second low. I don’t know why I have such a problem with the low parts on this album. Perhaps it’s because the melody voices aren’t as good as the harmony voices, or maybe the slow parts sound too similar throughout the album. In any case, Avi does a beautiful high part, followed by Shlomo doing second high with Yehuda Davis doing gorgeous harmony. Then the music suddenly speeds up a little and becomes a “march”, and the choir sings a little uptempo. Danny does the next low, Doniel the next high, and there’s a lot of choir work and harmonies going on all along. The song slows down again, Avi does the next high, and Danny does another high with a nice kvetch, ended by Shlomo. Then comes my favorite part of the song. The song speeds up again and there’s a very nifty nah-nah-nah here, not the kind you normally hear on a song. The guys take turns singing it, and it’s really cute.

8. Avinu Malkeinu

I liked this song the first minute I heard it. The music is excellent, and Eli Gerstner sings the first part of the song. I have grown to love his voice, especially after V’Ishay Yisroel (I believe it’s been improving). His part is a fabulous addition to the song, as well as to the album. He really sings with a lot of feeling. I love this song and I love the way he sings it. After the choir, is my favorite part of the song. Danny does melody and Avi does some GORGEOUS harmony to it. Shlomo does gorgeous harmony during the choir. Eli comes back with some more melody afterwards. I feel he enhances this song greatly… I truly love this song and would rate it a full ten if I were to be rating this album, but I’m not doing that.

9. Romimu

Another Shalsheles-style fast song. I can say, my least favorite song on the album. It’s nice, flows smoothly, nothing extraordinary. Doniel starts it off, and Shlomo takes over. Next time around after the choir is Danny’s low. Somewhere in the middle, Avi does it all an octave higher – very nice. Doniel does a very pretty melody piece after that. Shlomo does a very nice and heartzig piece after that (can you believe fast can be hartzig too?) As I said, not one of my favorites, but a good song.

10. Menucha V’Simcha

This song was composed by Dovid Nachman and Eli. It took me a few listens to appreciate it, but I like it a lot now. Danny starts the song, and Doniel takes over. Avi does the first high part, and Shlomo does the second high. I like the high part a lot. Avi’s nah-nah-nahs are very sweet, reminiscent of V’Ishay Yisroel’s M’ain Olam Haba’s Nah-nah-nahs actually. Second time around we hear Shlomo in the low part, and the choir work that follows that is beautiful. Then comes Doniel, and later Shlomo in high again. Amazing how his solos sound so hartzig. Avi sings after him, with equal heart, and Danny ends the song. I LOVE the shticky part of them all doing in full harmony: ME-NUU-CHAAA! As if this the title track of the song.

Phew. I said it’s a short review? It’s seven pages long! And it took me 3 hours to write. I haven’t even eaten breakfast (at 4:30 pm). But it was all worth it. So, here you have it folks, a nitpicked description of Menucha. From the above it’s clear that this is a beautiful cd, especially for those who appreciate intricate and harmonious soul music. Go out and get your copy today!



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