Monday Media: Roberto Rodriguez and the Cuban Jewish All Stars

Where do Klezmer and Cuba intersect? Miami, of course–home to Cuban ex-pats and a robust Jewish community. Roberto Rodriguez and the Cuban Jewish All Stars is the product of one man’s expansive musical imagination and unique upbringing. Bring your dancing shoes on May 14 at the DCJCC.

What We’re Listening To: A Song for September 12

Sometimes a song has the fortune to meet the zeitgeist perfectly. When that happens, a perfectly good song becomes an anthem for an age.

For me, Five for Fighting’s Superman (It’s Not Easy) is that song. Their soulful ballad, written well before 9/11, start with the words “I can’t stand to fly,” and, hitting ever more resonant cultural notes, insists that “even heroes have the right to bleed.”  In constant rotation in the weeks and months after 9/11,  it still sends me reeling back to those uncertain days. What’s your 9/12 song?

What We’re Listening To: Leonard Bernstein’s East Side Story

Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Harold Prince, Robert E. Griffith, Leonard Bernstein, and Jerome Robbins in 1957.

This week, Leonard Bernstein would’ve turned 93.

West Side Story, for which Bernstein composed the famous music, showcased the early collaboration of three nice Jewish boys – with Stephen Sondheim doing the lyrics, and Arthur Laurents writing the script.

See if you can imagine the show as originally conceived, as East Side Story: the conflicted love story between a Jewish girl from a family of Holocaust survivors and an Italian boy from a Catholic family on the Lower East Side.

What We’re Listening To: Eurovision 1978

Happy Tu B’av, the Jewish holiday of love.
Translation of the lyrics here. Translation of the clothes here!

What We’re Listening To: By the Rivers of Babylon

Click to listen to The Melodians sing “By the Rivers of Babylon

What We’re Listening To

Looking for some inspiration this Monday?

Here’s a beautiful tune from Grammy award-winner Miri Ben-Ari, who performed at the Washington Jewish Music Festival in 2009.

What We’re Listening To

A great talent lost too soon. May her family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Shabbat Surfing: We love you, JDub!

Last week we received the sad news that the groundbreaking Jewish record label JDub will be closing.

Golem at WJMF 2010

The Washington Jewish Music Festival has been a huge fan of JDub for many years, and has been proud to present their passionate and innovative musicians on our stage.

Some of our favorite shows–the ones that make us say this is the future of Jewish music, that give us hope that Jewish music has a future–have been with JDub artists.

And so, in fitting tribute, here’s a round-up of listening links to all our WJMF JDub groups.  Enjoy!

2011: Clare Burson
2010 & 2002: Golem
2010: Girls in Trouble
2010: The Maccaroons
2009: The Sway Machinery
2007: SoCalled

All are available for purchase at the JDub store!

“This Too Shall Pass” – badass music videos in the post-video age

Sure, the song title is Jewish…but we’re not really talking about anything Jewish, just a heads-up. Though it is interesting that the name of OK Go’s newest hit song is a popular Jewish phrase (often inscribed on jewelry, such as Yeshiva Girls rings), I could not find any relationship between the song/band and Judaism.

So let’s instead talk about badass music videos, which “This Too Shall Pass” certainly is. We’re gearing up over here for the Washington Jewish Music Festival, and though we certainly listen to some terrific music, we definitely don’t see any music videos! These videos used to be prime advertising opportunities for musicians and  bands – see a cool video, buy the CD, right?

But since CD sales are down, pirated music is so easily accessible, and even legal, purchase of MP3s is also so easy, nobody wants to make the  videos anymore. But we still want to see them, even if MTV disagrees (noted by their official dropping of “Music Televison” from their network description).

Even if musicians don’t have MTV to showcase their awesome videos, thanks to this whole internet evolution, they have YouTube, Vevo, and the ability to go crazy viral. OK Go created the video for “Here It Goes Again” independently of their record label (which they have since left). With little more than four  treadmills, a camera, tripod and killer choreography, they created a web phenomenon – and probably a whole new fan base.

But some artists want to make their videos with some more money, which is fine too, if they have it. Lady Gaga’s new music video for “Telephone,” featuring Beyonce, is completely ridiculous…but I can’t stop watching it! The costumes, the storyline…the song, meh, not so much. But give me a telephone hat and glasses made out of cigarettes, and I’m on board!

So what’s my point? Nothing huge…I just want you to watch these music videos! Explore the internet, and find those videos that speak to you…dig out those old videos that were so fun to watch 15 years ago. I’m sure you’ll discover that music videos are a form of entertainment you have seriously been missing in your life.

And then don’t forget to check out the Washington Jewish Music Festival on June 6-13 (line-up to be announced soon!). Maybe you can talk our bands into creating some viral videos for your viewing pleasure.

Music Review: Randy Newman “Harps and Angels”

Randy Newman has always been something of a riddle to me. On the one hand is the brilliant satirist and musician of such albums as Good Old Boys, Sail Away and Little Criminals which most famously included the song “Short People”. This was the Randy Newman that opened-up my world when I was a teenager to biting social critiscism and deadpan skewering of hypocrisy. Then there was the Randy Newman of the movies–both the tasteful scoring he’s done for films like Avalon, The Natural and Seabiscuit; and his standing-gig for a solid decade as the resident songster for the Pixar movie du’jour. I appreciated the former, and initially found some irony in the latter–his transformation into the go-to-guy for wholesome ditties to accompany Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Cars. But as the years dragged on without anything else of note from him, I began to worry that this saccharine parody of Randy Newman was all that was left. With his new album, Harps and Angels, Newman doesn’t exactly return to top-form, that’s too much to expect given his accomplishments, but he’s pretty close. At its best, the album offers some of the bite that Newman had let go during his decade of writing for CGI cartoons along with a suprisingly sincere depth of emotion we’ve seen from him before, for instance on the early tracks of Land of Dreams. While that album focused on his childhood in New Orleans and Los Angeles, Harps and Angels finds him pondering his mortality and the follies of aging.

He begins the first and title track with the lyric, “Hasn’t anybody seen me lately/ I’ll tell you why/ I caught something made me so sick/ That I thought that I would die/ And I almost did too” set to a lazy blues rhthym. He goes onto recount a near-death experience in which a pair of Angels appear to him and reproach him for a life full of misbehavior, but also bring the good news that due to a clerical error it isn’t his time. They leave him with the advice,

When they lay you on the table
Better keep your business clean
When they lay you on the table
Better keep your business clean
Else there won’t be no harps and angels coming for you
It’ll be trombones, kettle drums, pitchforks, and tambourines

Newman has taken it as the charge to a prophet, and he plays the role wickedly well whether in the damning-with-faint-praise “A Few Words in Defense of our Country” or lamenting the state of the nation in the Kurt Weill-esque “Piece of the Pie” that:

Jesus Christ it stinks here high and low
The rich are getting richer
I should know
While we’re going up
You’re going down
And no one gives a shit but Jackson Browne

Not only does he repeatedly hate on Jackson, but goes on to take shots at Johnny Cougar for pimping GM (“He’ll be singing for Toyota by the fall”) and Bono (“Off in Africa–he’s never around.) He’s being Continue reading

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