Archive | 2:41 pm

“Black Sabbath” Exposes the Musical Connection between Black and Jewish Cultures

17 Jul

What a fascinating concept! I certainly give these guys an A+ for creativity. And you know what? They somehow manage to pull it all off. This is a really fun, well-researched collection of Jewish songs (some traditional, some more obscure) performed by some of the biggest African-American artists in the history of popular music. Nina Simone, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, and The Temptations all make appearances — alongside lesser known entertainers such as Libby Holman, Jimmy Scott, Malena Shaw (who performed the ’60s classic “California Soul”), and Slim Gaillard of “Slim and Slam” duo fame.

Gaillard’s “Dunkin’ Bagel” is a highlight and immensely catchy. Slim was known for his silly scat numbers and often used food as his lyrical inspiration. Calloway’s “Utt Da Zay” is another winning contribution to this recording. The track starts slow, but really swings. I also found The Temptations’ “Fiddler on the Roof Medley” and Aretha’s “Swannee” (a 1920 hit for the legendary Al Jolson) to be both eye-opening and ear pleasing. The “Theme from “Exodus” has always been a favorite melody of mine. Jimmy Scott gives it the good old slow burn treatment. And I must admit to renewed respect for Lena Horne’s vocal chops after hearing her passionate demand for social justice simply entitled, “Now!”

And please remember, you don’t have to be Jewish or African-American to enjoy this CD. “Oy Vey, y’all!”


CD compilation with deluxe booklet to be released by the Idelsohn Society on September 14; features Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Scott, Cannonball Adderly, Nina Simone, the Temptations and more

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Black Sabbath: The Secret History of Black-Jewish Relations is the first CD compilation to showcase legendary African-American artists covering Jewish songs. Focusing on the 1930s through the 1960s, it uses popular music to shed light on the historical, political, spiritual, economic, and cultural connections between African Americans and Jewish Americans. Featuring Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, and many others, Black Sabbath explores the myriad ways that Jews and African-Americans have coalesced and clashed, struggled against each other and struggled alongside each other. This is the soundtrack to a rarely told American story. The CD, produced by the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation ( is set for September 14, 2010 release.

This is the first attempt to gather the U.S. history of Black–Jewish relations into a selective pop musical guide. The relationship between African Americans and Jewish Americans has long been a reliable subject of rigorous attention. Books and articles focusing on the musical landscapes shared by Blacks and Jews have been equally numerous, indeed most general histories of American Popular Music even turn on the synergies of Black-Jewish creativity, influence, and exchange, be it African-American spirituals, Tin Pan Alley, Klezmer, the Yiddish theater, jazz or R&B.

Yet for all this attention there has yet to be a one-stop musical source of evidence and exploration, a single CD release that succinctly and selectively gathers together some of the key songs that speak to the vibrant and often dazzling musical back-and-forth between the two communities. The Black Sabbath collection samples a century’s worth of extraordinary and fascinating musical performance that finds African-Americans performing Jewish music and appealing to Jewish audiences.

After hearing the compilation, legendary jazz singer Jimmy Scott, whose version of “Exodus” is featured, had this to say: “”A wonderful musical composition by our Isrealite brotherhood. Well done and all that jazz!”

The CD moves from early black performers like Slim Galliard singing about bagels gefilte fish, and pickled herring (in a self-penned song) and Cab Calloway mixing Yiddish into his hepcat dictionary of jive to Billie Holiday singing “My Yiddishe Momme” and Aretha Franklin doing a ’60s take on the early blackface hit for Al Jolson, “Swanee.” Indeed, while much scholarly and media ink has been devoted to the Jewish attraction to Black music, this anthology — while surely demonstrating that — focuses instead on the long history of African-American interest in Jewish musical practice, performance, and composition.

The Idelsohn Society was so inspired and astonished by the Johnny Mathis version of “Kol Nidre” that they tracked the crooner down and interviewed him about his motivations for recording one of the most beautiful and sacred pieces of the Jewish canon.

“When I was growing up in San Francisco as a teenager, I would visit temple with some of my Jewish friends and I loved to listen to the cantors,” says Johnny Mathis, whose version of “Kol Nidre” is featured on the compilation. “They helped me learn these songs long before I recorded them.” Paul Robeson, no stranger to either repertoire, put it this way: “If it had been true that the Jewish people, like so many other national groups for whom I have sung, have warmly understood the loved songs of my people, it has also been true that Negro audiences have been moved by the songs of the Jewish people.”

About the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation

The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation is a critically acclaimed all-volunteer non-profit organization. They are a small but dedicated team from the music industry and academia who passionately believe Jewish history is best told by the music we have loved and lost. In order to incite a new conversation about the present, we must begin by listening anew to the past.

They do this in a number of ways:

–Re-releasing lost classics like Mazeltov Mis Amigos, and compilations like Jewface
–Filming the story of every veteran Jewish musician they can find across the country to build a digitally-based archive of the music and the artists who created it in order to preserve their legacy for future generations
–Curating innovative museum exhibits that showcase the stories behind the music, like “Jews on Vinyl,” which is currently travelling the nation
–Creating concert showcases like “Mazeltov Mis Amigos” at Lincoln Center and, coming this August, the “Jews on Vinyl Revue” at the Skirball Cultural Center

All of this work is driven by the passion and energies of volunteer supporters and donors across the country who share the belief that music creates conversations otherwise impossible in daily life. Our work has lifted the past into the present, from the pages of the New York Times, to the NPR airwaves, to the stage of Lincoln Center. You can join the Idelsohn Society in their mission by visiting them at .

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Former Mavericks’ Frontman Raul Malo releases “Sinners & Saints” Solo CD

17 Jul

From the plaintive opening wail of a mariachi’s horn, to the lonesome twang of the Duane Eddy-style guitar, to the bouncing echo of a vintage Tex-Mex organ, you know this is going to be a very interesting ride. The title track “Sinners & Saints” sets the tone for what proves to be a very ambitious solo effort from former Mavericks’ leader, Raul Malo. We all have long known that Malo can flat out sing. His voice conjures up a haunting “Roy Orbison heads South of the Border” sound. Raul has frequently been stylistically compared to the likes of Orbison, Marty Robbins and Chris Isaak. Yet he has often worked within the contraints of Nashville’s major record label system.

This new Concord release granted Raul the freedom to experiment with a variety of musical styles. His voice is still always at the forefront — a soaring, operatic instrument that has become a very potent and recognizable musical weapon. In this effort you will be treated to bluesy numbers, Tex-Mex rockers a la Doug Sahm, accordian driven party tracks, country weepers, and traditional Latin tunes inspired by Malo’s childhood in the Cuban neighborhoods of South Florida. The wah-wah laced “Staying Here,” one of my favorite cuts on the new record, sounds like a long-lost Jimmy Webb ballad that could have been penned for a fresh-scrubbed Glen Campbell in the mid-1960’s.  

This satisfying collection of recordings immediately grabs your attention like a fiery hot salsa rojo. And repeated listens will only deepen your appetite for Malo’s spicy musical tastes and the magnificent pipes with which the Saints have blessed him — and us.  


New album for Fantasy Records/Concord Music Group recorded in Nashville and Austin; guests include Augie Meyers, Shawn Sahm, Michael Guerra and The Trishas

AUSTIN, Texas — Self-produced in his home studio, Sinners & Saints is the most intimate, honest and complex album Raul Malo has made in an already distinguished career. One hears in it a lifetime’s journey, from the singer-songwriter’s youth in Cuban neighborhoods of Miami through his years as one of the most intriguing talents in the Americana scene. The album is set for September 28, 2010 release on Fantasy Records/Concord Music Group. Sinners & Saints follows 2009’s critically acclaimed album Lucky One, Malo’s Fantasy debut.

Rooted in Malo’s lifelong connection to Latin music but infused with his wide-ranging love of country, blues, jazz and vintage rock ’n’ roll, Sinners & Saints combines sonic ingenuity with emotional sincerity.

Entertainment Weekly stated, “Malo is one of those rare singers who transcend the mundane with the sheer operatic sweep of his marvelous instrument. He’s among the last of a breed: a country stylist with finesse and brawn in equal measure, turning his laments into bittersweet valentines.”

In a departure from his past albums, Malo took his tracks from his home studio in Nashville to Austin, where an incredible musical cross-pollination took place. Malo has spent much time playing in Texas with the Lone Star State’s wealth of legendary musicians. He entered longtime friend Ray Benson’s Bismeaux Studios and finished the album with the help of Sir Douglas Quintet and Texas Tornado veteran Augie Meyers on the Vox Continental organ and, on the song “Superstar,” guitarist Shawn Sahm, Sir Douglas’ son. The Trishas (Savannah Welch, Kelley Mickwee, Liz Foster and Jamie Wilson) provided background vocals. And hotshot accordionist Michael Guerra, known for his work with the Tex-Mex Experience, lent further Tejas authenticity to the sound.

The title track opens the record, setting the album’s tone thematically and musically. From his boyhood and through his years of coming of age in Miami, Malo spent many nights in neighborhood music rooms listening to local artists perform their Flamenco zarzuelas. Malo wrote “Sinners & Saints” by conjuring up those nights in his head, and playing his electric guitar with a cross between Flamenco melodicism and retro surf-twang. “It has no chorus, no repeatable line,” he says, “And it’s long. Purposefully long.”

The second track, “Living for Today,” ventures into socio-political territory against an upbeat sound that includes chiming guitars, Meyers’ Vox organ and the Trishas’ backing vocals. In a musical space that includes the biting observations of Rodney Crowell, James McMurtry or Todd Snider, this song is a welcome addition. Speaking of Crowell, Malo provides a heart-felt reading of his modern-day standard “Til I Gain Control Again.”

The disc’s other songs are also full of special moments. In Austin Malo recorded an original song called “Superstar” with several pals from the Texas Tornados. That and several other tracks feature Guerra’s blazing Tex-Mex accordion, as in “San Antonio Baby.” In a more serious vein, Malo delivers the classic Spanish song “Sombras” in the stunning tenor voice that made him famous. He also offers an innovative cover of Los Lobos’ “Saint Behind the Glass,” whose rich mix of percussion, guitars and Mexican instruments will leave audiophiles deeply absorbed. The cryptic lyrics offer an unexpected finale to the album.

Malo & The Mavericks perform one of their Country hits

Raul Malo has seen and done a great deal in his career but Sinners & Saints demonstrates there is much more inside him. “This is the hardest I’ve ever worked on an album,” he says with a mixture of relief and pride. That includes the physical labor of confronting the studio alone day after day as well as the emotional courage to challenge his listeners and speak his mind. “This really is about me and my point of view. I realized that after I’d done it. It reflects really how I feel about a lot of things. That’s why this is as much of me as I’ve ever put on a record.”

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