December 28, 2006
Music: Shabbat joins ‘Lounge’ lineup
Listening to "The Shabbat Lounge" (Craig N Co.), the latest album in Craig Taubman's "Lounge" series, your first thought is, "Gee, this is such a natural, why didn't he begin the series with this one instead of shuffling through the holidays?"
The answer, I suspect, is that the songs for Shabbat are so familiar that Taubman felt on surer ground tinkering with less well-known material.
He needn't have worried. "Shabbat Lounge" is sufficiently respectful and sufficiently fun that no one is likely to be upset by his interpretations, and he may just expand the listenership for Jewish music a little more. Although he has been billing these CDs as "Experimental Jew Age Music," they have been, by and large, fairly mainstream in approach, and I mean that as a compliment. Taubman's sweet, light tenor lends itself quite nicely to the low-temperature dance beats of the chill-out subgenre, and the musicianship on all of the "Lounge" albums has been exemplary, the new one included.
"Shabbat Lounge" opens with a little tongue-in-cheek humor as a smooth FM-ready male voice tells listeners, "You might want to hang onto your jacket -- it's pretty 'chill' in here." After this greeting and a spacey candlelighting blessing, the CD moves into a funky Middle-Eastern groove for a spicy "Dror Yikra," punctuated by drum-machine simulated handclaps and some tasty drum track. It's a fair indication of what is to come.
You can't say that the set is overproduced, despite all the sequencing, looping and programming by Luke Tozour. The chill-out subgenre is a producer's/programmer's bailiwick, and, by those standards, Taubman and Tozour are refreshingly restrained in their use of electronics. The slower material -- "Shir Hamalot" and "Tzur Shelo," for example -- could almost have come from one of Taubman's pre-"Lounge" recordings, if you tune out the tape sounds, multitracked voices and computer boinks. Despite the chill-out trappings of the "Lounge" recordings, one suspects that deep down in his heart, Taubman is an unreconstructed Jewish folkie who would be just a comfortable with an acoustic guitar and a single mike.
One of the few cuts on this set that doesn't work, "Yedid Nefesh," underscores the limitations of the "Lounge" approach. Taubman's warmly melodic treatment of this tune makes it almost a lullaby, with a tasteful string arrangement augmenting its feeling, but the natterings of a drum machine in the background seem completely irrelevant.
That said, "Shabbat Lounge" is a very pleasant listen and will sit nicely on your shelf next to its predecessors.