Jewish World Review July 17, 2000 / 14 Tamuz, 5760

Sounds Like Summer:
Two New Folk CDs

By Paul Wieder

IT'S SUMMER, and that means charcoal, mosquitoes... and summer camp. Whether you're going or just wish you were, you're going to need some acoustic guitar-based folksongs to capture the feeling.

The worn-smooth songs of Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and James Taylor have long been joined around the kosher campfires by those of Debbie Friedman, Julie Silver, and Jeff Klepper. New to the song circles are Noah Budin and Beth Schafer.

The Cleveland-based Budin is an alum of perhaps the most accurately named group ever: Four Guys Standing Around Singing. This a cappella quartet focused on quirky fare like "(Your Love is Like a) Roach Motel" and a rap version of Poe's "The Raven," but it was also capable of lovely harmonies and stinging social criticism.

As a solo performer, Budin follows this eclectic pattern but infuses it with biblical and Jewish-holiday references. The title track of his debut album, "Hallelu-ah Land," is a rollicking, banjo-backed account of the Exodus, while "Standing at the Bottom of Ararat" recounts Noah's journey. "One Life," "Early in the Morning," and "Joshua's Band" are surveys of Jewish history, linking key events with common themes of faith, individual action, and civil rights.

The musical styles in "Hallelu-ah Land" range from folk to country to gospel, but nearly all are rousing and engaging. Three tracks calm the mood down a bit: "With These Hands," a meditation; "As We Gather in Your Presence," a call to prayer; and "Jerusalem in My Heart," a comforting farewell.

Budin's friendly baritone recalls Bob Gibson's, and his songwriting and delivery are much like that of Paul Stookey (of Peter Paul and Mary). "Hallelu-ah Land" offers messages of friendship and social responsibility in a setting that is both Jewish and fun-just like summer camp.

One standout track is "Sukkat Shalom," in which Budin ties the harvest holiday of Sukkot to hunger relief. Beyond this appropriate but seldom-made connection, the song is notable as part of the new trend of Sukkot songs. On his outstanding debut CD, Tov, Rick Recht uses a "Suka" as a metaphor for inclusiveness. And on her second release, Beth Schafer offers her own song called "Sukkat Shalom."

Her second album, "Lev B'Lev," finds Schafer as a cantor of a Florida congregation. A more reserved set than Budin's, Schafer's collection is powerful in the quiet way of prayer... well, after the folk-rock intro of "Hinei Ma Tov," that is. Aside from this track and the fresh, hip-hop-influenced "Lo Alecha," the songs are meditative and moving. This is especially true of the trilogy "Zeh Hayom," "All These Vows," and "We Remember Them," about meeting, losing, and moving on. The first of these three is a duet with Julie Silver, already a star in the Jewish music world, about forming friendships. The second takes place on Kol Nidre night; the third is inspired by Yizkor, the memorial service. It is impossible not to think of loved ones gone when hearing these heartfelt songs.

Elsewhere on the album, Schafer touches on Torah, faith, and community, mingling the words of liturgy with her own poetry. While there are plenty of Jewish albums that focus on the joy of being Jewish, the songs of "Lev B'Lev" deal with more personal, contemplative aspects of the tradition.

Schafer's first release, "May the Words," focused on the Shabbat prayers. Here, she moves both beyond the bounds of time and into the depths of a soul. "Lev B'Lev" is a sweet, tender collection, perfect for a rainy summer afternoon.

If you know someone who is headed for camp this summer, one way to make sure they have something to listen to besides-ahem-Britney Spears is to sneak "Hallelu-ah Land" and "Lev B'Lev" into their duffel bags. And if you forget, they fit nicely into care packages.

Paul Wieder is a public relations associate at the Jewish United Fund and a columnist for JUF News. Contact the author or the magazine by either clicking here, or calling (312) 444-2853.


© 2000, JUF News