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This Chanukah season, two new compilations albums geared towards modern hip Jewish music were released. But the concept isn't new. Back in the 1996 season, the Festival of Lights CD came out which featured top Jewish American performers. The highlight on the disc for me is Rock of Ages by Marc Cohn. The folksy acoustic version of the traditional Maoz Tzur song is very well done. Cohn won a Grammy Award for best new artist in 1991 and topped the charts with his song Walking in Memphis. There is also a rocking track by Peter Himmelman called Lighting Up the World. Like many of Peter Himmelman's songs, the content is Jewish, but you won't know it if you didn't know it.
Himmelman is Bob Dylan's son-in-law and has released albums such as Gematria and From Strength to Strength which has songs that are partially based on Judaism, but again, don't directly reference it. His son Isaac Himmelman is gaining popularity with his MySpace and YouTube tracks.
Wally Brill's The Covenant is also featured on the album. Brill was one of Ofra Haza's producers. His album the Covenant takes old cantorial records and remixes them as new age and electronica songs with a thumping beat. The tracks featured on the Festival of Lights album is pretty good, but I really like the song Rtzeh with Gershon Sirota.
The other songs on the Festival of Lights album are good, but aren't really Chanukah related. The Klezmatics, John Zorn, Don Byron and other hip Jewish artists are featured. There’s really only two true Chanukah songs on the album.
Festival of Lights 2 came out aroung 1999. The quirky pop duo They Might be Giants, who had a radio hit or two in the 1990s is on it with with a quirky Chanukah pop song. Peter Himmelman is again featured as well as Frank London of the Klezmatics and Neshama Carlebach. Again, the Chanukah content is not so pronounced.
Here are the two releases that came out this month. I wrote about Craig Taubman's Lights: Celebrate Hanukkah Live in Concert here:
I wrote about Erran Baron Cohen's Songs in the Key of Hanukkah here: