They are round, shiny and popular. But CDs don't melt like chocolate coins -- and they have fewer calories. To give the gelt without the guilt, try the gift of music.
Rick Recht "Shabbat Alive!"
You don't want to miss Rock Recht with his voice, guitar and charisma, he's held his own with every oxymoron from Vertical Horizon to Supertramp. Recht transmits spirituality, social conscience and a sheer love of Judaism -- all in an irresistible rock 'n' roll package. His is the sound of America's Jewish youth -- happy, strong, and blessed with potential. "Shabbat Alive!" is his second Jewish release, and another can't-ignore-it work.
Achinoam "Noa" Nini/Gil Dor "First Collection"
Israel's most brilliant musical jewel today is Noa. Born in Israel to Yemenite parents and raised in New York, Noa's music is anchored, as she says, on "both sides of the sea." Her first all-Hebrew anthology, "First Collection," arrived this year. The album chronicles a decade of her music -- from a single guitar to the Israeli Philharmonic. But the centerpiece is that voice, sparkling as silver and warm as gold. If you've ever enjoyed Noa's concerts, all her best stuff is right here.
Diaspora Yeshiva Band "The Diaspora Collection"
Founded at the Diaspora Yeshiva by rock-loving students in the late '70s, Diaspora created the Jewish rock genre, now reaching a new plateau. "The Diaspora Collection" is a two-CD set that captures the history of the band. It proves Diaspora's claim as the seminal Jewish rock band, and also the greatest Jewish country band ever, thanks to Avraham Rosenblum's rangy guitar and Ruby Harris' down-home fiddle and mandolin. Come discover the favorite band you never knew.
Sam Glaser "The Songs We Sing"
We've always sung "Adon Olam," and "Erev Shel Shoshanim." But we've never heard them the Sam Glaser way. A tireless, gifted producer, Glaser established the annual Jewish Song Festival that helped launch many careers. An engaging performer, Glaser combines old-fashioned haymishness with state-of-the-art technology. Here, he reimagines Jewish favorites as rock, blues, and reggae numbers. In "The Songs We Sing," Glaser explains why this music has endured: it always sings to the current generation.
Philip Don/Ruby Harris "Tzalel Nafshi"
The title song won an international Jewish-music competition, and is featured in the Oscar-winning documentary, "The Long Way Home." Encompassing American, European and Israeli music, "Tzalel Nafshi" features the words and voice of Philip Don and the compositions and music of Ruby Harris. Harris is a one-man string section, playing up to four instruments on one track. And on other tracks, he plays the harmonica and even does a dramatic reading. This is a tough but ultimately rewarding album, made with acoustic instruments and a lot of loving care.
Shirona "Judaic Love Songs (Love Songs to the Creator)"
Ruth Wieder Magan "Songs to the Invisible God"
Two takes on the same idea: a woman with a plush yet soaring voice singing love songs to God.
But here the similarities end. Shirona writes her own material, based in scripture and liturgy, and backs it with lush instrumentation. Her debut release evidences Eastern European and Middle Eastern, but also Celtic, influences. Like the jewelry Shirona designs, the tone is elegant and golden. One track, "Ki Elecha," is so moving, it has become a wedding march. As a whole, "Judaic Love Songs" is a spiritually uplifting experience.
Ruth Wieder Magan sings cantorial works composed by the great classical Jewish arrangers. The only sound on the entire album is Magan's haunting voice. The works are beautiful, but can be challenging, even frightening at times (both her parents survived the Holocaust). All are enshrouded in the embrace of the Shechina, the very presence of God. "Songs to the Invisible God" is the more difficult of the two, but also the more profound.
Whether you eat your latkes with sour cream or applesauce, make sure to eat them with music!