I've been listening abit to Blue Fringe's album. I like it. Some nice, 90's alt-pop-lite. I don't know if I'd spend a lot of time listening to this music if it weren't Jewish (that's a topic for another post), but it's certainly benign. What makes this one a keeper in my collection is the fact that it sounds like these guys did their own playing. That may not sound like much, but the vast majority of Jewish recordings, and indeed secular recordings, are actually recorded by "session players," hired-gun professional musicians. These musicians play with machine-like perfection. They generally come in for a session, play for a coupla hours, then leave. They haven't seen the music before that session, and they won't play it again afterwards, unless they get hired to do a performance.
I've done a fair amount of studio work and I've seen this in action. It's a sight to behold. A bunch of pretty normal looking guys walk into the studio carrying their instruments. They sit down in front of a music stand where a professional arranger has set out their parts. When the engineer says "go," they play the album. Pretty much the way it sounds when you hear it on your stereo. They stare at the sheet music for the entire session, barely moving. Then they fold up the music, pack up their instruments, and go home.
If it sounds lifeless and soul-less, that's because it pretty much is. There's really no feeling going into this. Many of these musicians have worked together on multiple projects. They've done this thousands of times. In the Jewish music industry in general, the same arrangers are working with the same musicians on almost all the major projects. If you're wondering why all Jewish popular music sounds the same, this is why.
Now, these guys are incredibly talented. They can play circles around me or just about any musician I know. And they do it without any fuss, egotism, or need for bottled water. They are more cost effective than trying to get a bunch of inexperienced band members to get the song down in one or two takes. And there are no fights or creative disputes or girlfriends to lead to cost overruns.
As a music fan, it's important to be aware of this. Because while you may enjoy listening to one or two Cutler/Gershovsky/Singolda combo albums, do you really want this to be your only choice? I love listening to Jimmy Page play guitar. But I'd lose interest if he was playing on EVERY song I listened to.
Which brings me back to Blue Fringe. The guitar playing is not the best I've heard. The arrangements are pretty simple. But these guys sound like they enjoy what they do, and they do it competently enough for me. Not every guitar solo has to sound like Eddie Van Halen. It just has to sound like it belongs in the song.
Other bands that I would put on my list are The Diaspora Yeshiva Band (although it looks like maybe Rosenblum put a few hired guns on his latest effort), Yom Hadash, Brian Gelfand, The Sparklifters, Even Shesiyah, The Moshav Band, and of course, my old band, Kabbalah, which was a progenitor for the current crop of Chassidic-Rock bands (whether they know it or not). I may have forgotten a few. You can add them to the list.
These are the guys who revitalize the Jewish Music scene. They are coming up with the original ideas. The ideas that will probably one day find their way onto a sheet of music placed before a session player.