Jewish World Review Dec. 15, 2000 / 18 Kislev, 5761

SPINNING DREIDELS... AND CDs: Your Easy Chanukah Shopping Guide

By Paul Wieder -- WHAT'S ROUND, shiny, and a popular Chanukah gift? OK, chocolate coins. But if you want to give something that lasts a bit longer, CDs are a great way to go. They're reasonably priced, easy to wrap, and show you really know the person who's getting them.

So here are some suggestions from the recent crop of Jewish CDs, matched to all your hard-to-shop-for relatives:

Your Brother, the Air Guitarist- Rick Recht: "Tov"

Finally, a Jewish act that can stand up against anything on alternative radio. Rick Recht's first Jewish release, Tov, has won most of the major Jewish-music awards, and earned every one. It should be the first in a long line of albums combining provocative songwriting with superior musicianship and studio-craft. His sound has been likened to Dave Matthews', but you can also hear everything from funk to folk strummin' through.

Your Sister, the MTV Junkie- Visions: In Our Hearts, In Our Prayers

Prove to her that there is music beyond Britney and the Backstreets that is made by some talented teens of today. Visions' second release sparkles with their own uptempo works plus favorites from Craig Taubman's "Shehecheyanu" to the new hit "When You Believe." Amy has the power, Tanya has the range, and Andra, the sweetness to make Visions equal to any bubblegum band; their spiritual message makes them superior.

Your Aunt, the Ex-Hippie- Steve Dropkin: Keep Our Hopes Alive

There is room among her Weavers and Baez LPs for the affecting folkie Steve Dropkin. Keep Our Hopes Alive is his first solo effort, and he spends much of it taking a campfire approach to traditional classics from the Siddur. He then adds his own thoughts on faith, Israel, and the Jewish heritage of social action. Helping Dropkin out are super-producer/multi-instrumentalist Troy Dexter and Julie Silver, with her lovely, heartwarming voice.

Your Uncle, the Deadhead- Evėn Sh'siyah: The Way Jews Rock

Tell him to warm up his lighter and break out the tie-dye. With songs like "Yemenite Fever" and "Blues for Kaballah" this Chicago-based combo will send him on a far-out trip (perfectly legal, though). Even Sh'siyah, on its second album, melds the earth-quaking drums and swirling guitars of the Allman Brothers to the spiritual bliss of Shlomo Carlebach.

Your Mother, the Hostess- Nancy Linder: Songs of the Jewish Spirit So what CD can she put on for the Chanukah party that everyone will enjoy? Nancy Linder's second album, Songs of the Jewish Spirit, features 16 classics performed in their traditional melodies. The selection ranges from the Yiddish to the Israeli to the Sephardic- if you don't know any of the songs, you should. And you will, as you will listen to Linder's delicate, floral vocals eight days straight. Her "Erev Ba" is perfect.

Your Father, the Working Stiff-Shawn's Kugel: Most Precious of Days

After a day in work shoes, there's nothing like a little klezmer to put the bounce back in Dad's step. Reedist Shawn Weaver and his band, Shawn's Kugel, know how to serve it up hot and sweet. Upbeat freylachs, klezmer versions of favorites like "Hine Ma Tov" and "Lecha Dodi," and some innovative originals- what's not to like? Weaver also plays a marima-like instrument, the kalimba, which has a sound like slippers for the ears.

Your Cousin, the Comedian- Shlock Rock: Meets the Prophets

Mickey Katz, Tom Lehrer, Alan Sherman, Stan Freberg- the list of Jews who have parodied popular songs is impressive, but only Shlock Rock has been doing it Jewishly, and for almost 15 years. On their nineteeth release, Shlock Rock Meets the Prophets, they tell the stories of Jonah, Ruth, David, Solomon, and Joshua to the tunes of Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Charlie Daniels, Brian Setzer... even Chumbawamba. You'll plotz!

Your Kids, the TV Zombies- Alcalay/BenArie: Hebrew in Song Why, oh why must every CD your kids have be the soundtrack to some cartoon show? Better they should listen to the sweet sound of Sharon Alcalay singing in Hebrew. They will learn, from teacher Ronit Ben-Arie's adorable lyrics, the Hebrew words for seasons, foods, and celebrating Shabbat. A companion songbook is available, complete with activities for home or school based on the songs, so this counts as a gift for yourself, too.

Your Grandparents, the Culture Vultures- Khevrisa: European Klezmer Music

The Smithsonian has recognized the importance of klezmer music with a release on its Folkways label. They took two members of Brave Old World, the Klezmatics' Alicia Svigals, and a cimbalom (like a hammered dulcimer) player to form Khevrisa. With liner notes like a dissertation, European Klezmer Music considers klezmer as a genre with the depth, sweep, and brilliance of classical music. But hearing it is enough to tell that.

There, your Chanukah shopping is done. Now all you need are headphones that double as earmuffs.

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.


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