Holiday music that goes beyond the driedel, driedel, driedel
by Gregg Shapiro
When it comes to gifts for the Hanukkah celebrants on your list, the musical pickings are slim. But here are a few suggestions of new recordings by some members of the tribe.
The Singer (Columbia/Legacy), a double-disc anthology, mainly focuses on the solo work of one Art Garfunkel. More than doubling the number of tracks found on Garfunkel’s 1988 single disc Garfunkel compilation, there is some duplication of titles (a half-dozen or so songs), as well as some exclusions (“Second Avenue”). The set also includes a handful of Simon & Garfunkel tunes, as well as some unusual choices (the 1993 recording of “All I Know” in lieu of the 1973 original)—although why the 34 tracks aren’t in chronological order remains a mystery.
Garfunkel’s former singing partner, Paul Simon, who has released some of his best work in recent years, including the albums Surprise and So Beautiful or So What, has a new two-CD/one-DVD set available—Live in New York City (Concord/Hear Music). Recorded live at Webster Hall in New York City in June of 2011, the package includes several tracks from his lauded Graceland album, as well as the title track from his underrated 1982 disc Hearts and Bones, on which he sings “one and one-half wandering Jews,” a reference to his relationship with ex-wife (and OutSmart May 2012 cover girl) Carrie Fisher.
The A and the M of A&M Records are Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, two “nice Jewish boys” who founded the legendary record label in the early 1960s. A&M 50: The Record Collection (A&M/Ume) is a triple-disc, 60-track retrospective celebrating the anniversary of the label and their amazing roster of artists. Thoughtfully separated into categories (“From AM to FM,” “A Mission to Rock,” and “Soul, Jazz And More”—note the clever use of A&M), the discs feature tracks by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (naturally), Sérgio Mendes & Brasil ’66, Burt Bacharach, the Carpenters, Joan Armatrading, the Police (and Sting), Squeeze, and Janet Jackson, among many others.
It’s been quite a year for the newly shorn Matisyahu. He made his big-budget Hollywood movie acting debut alongside Kyra Sedgwick in The Possession, which topped the box office in early September. While he hasn’t completely abandoned the Hasidic reggae shtick, he definitely branches out in a more pop-oriented direction on Spark Seeker (Fallen Sparks/Thirty Tigers), best represented by the bright single “Sunshine.”
On a more traditional note, Eternal Echoes: Songs & Dances for the Soul (Sony Classical) is a stellar collaboration between violinist Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot (whose vocal abilities are comparable to the best opera singers, including Pavarotti and Domingo, according to Perlman). Familiarity with Hebrew or Jewish traditions and religious practices is not necessary to appreciate the exquisite combination of Perlman’s playing and Helfgot’s singing.
Consisting of eleven previously unreleased tunes from her personal vault, Release Me (Columbia) by Barbra Streisand is the ultimate holiday gift. Heretofore unavailable selections include a dazzling reading of “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today” featuring songwriter Randy Newman on piano (from the Stoney End sessions), “Home” from The Wiz (one of two cuts from Back to Broadway), a rendition of Jimmy Webb’s “Didn’t We” (from a scrapped album), and a studio version of “With One More Look at You” (from Streisand’s movie version of A Star Is Born), just to name a few.
After a brief flirtation with born-again Christianity, resulting in an unholy trinity of albums released from 1979 to 1981, legendary folk singer Bob Dylan (born and circumcised Robert Zimmerman in Hibbing, Minnesota) returned to his secular ways after that, briefly detouring for a Christmas album in 2009. His latest, Tempest (Columbia), continues some of the blues exploration he began with 1997’s Time Out of Mind and followed through into the 21st century on Love and Theft, Modern Times and Together Through Life, as you can hear on “Narrow Way” and “Early Roman Kings.” But the curmudgeonly Dylan is downright upbeat on the perky “Duquesne Whistle” and the twangy romance of “Pay in Blood.”
Perhaps frustrated with the lack of Hanukkah music, nice Jewish boys Kenny G and Barry Manilow have turned to the Christmas songbook for their holiday releases. Both have released 16-track discs under the Classic Christmas Album (Arista/Legacy) heading, and both lend their respective talents to holiday standards including “Silver Bells,” “Jingle Bells,” and more.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.