Courtesy of SoulAviv

.As Administrative Director for Sounds Write Productions, a major publisher and distributor of contemporary Jewish music, a lot of CDs comes across my desk. Most of them are very nice, a few I really like – but most don’t stand out from the crowd in any way and after a quick listen it’s on to the next, with no significant lasting impressions. When I first popped SoulAviv’s third recording, “Soul Service,” into my player, though, I knew right away that we were in completely different territory.

SoulAviv is staking out new ground in spiritual Jewish music. Their unique blend of folk, Motown, gospel, Memphis soul, and world-music grooves is different, fun, inspirational, and engaging. Singing in Hebrew, English, and Yiddish, SoulAviv blends Jewish heritage, spirituality, and celebration with a little California sunshine for a musical experience that is contemporary, yet timeless. It’s different than anything else I’ve heard – and I’ve heard a lot – and it’s working.

First, the music: Band leader Rob Raede and his colleagues Liat Wasserman, Jamie Green, and Roxanne Morganstern collectively have a wildly eclectic musical background, and have drawn on musical influences from around the world to create a unique, yet comfortably familiar sound. From Jamaica to the Middle East, from Eastern Europe to Uganda to the American Deep South, the rhythms and melodies of SoulAviv’s music gather up the fringes of our Jewish musical heritage from across the globe. For me, the various strands evoke favorite artists, albums, and genres from my musical past, yet entwine in new and exciting ways. The songs are eminently singable (it’s no surprise that several of these melodies are already being sung in synagogues across the country), and they stay in your head long after the CD stops spinning.

Second, the musicianship and production: SoulAviv’s vocal blend is what musicians call “tight.” If you grew up listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young or The Eagles, you know what “tight” is – those moments when multiple voices blend together in perfect harmony, perfect timing, perfect synergy, and create an organic whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, it makes you say “wow.” SoulAviv’s multilayered harmonies are very, very tight. The musicians backing up these inspired vocals are amazing as well, having worked with such iconic bands as The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Pat Benatar, Steve Miller, Rascal Flatts, and Kenny Loggins. The performances are stellar, brought to life with state-of-the-art studio production and mixing.

Finally, the Jewishness of it all: You may wonder how African rhythms and Motown grooves can fit with the liturgy of the Shabbat evening service – but it WORKS. The ancient rabbis who created the liturgy understood the emotional roller coaster ride that is the worship service, from the joyful celebration of freedom in Mi Chamocha to the pleading intensity of Mi Shebeirach, a prayer for healing. SoulAviv gets it, too, and the emotional highs and lows in the music of Soul Service beautifully reflect the essence and intention of each prayer. A thumping reggae groove makes Hinei Ma Tov a fun and welcoming way to open the service, and the bopping, African-influenced Adon Olam will stay with you long after the service has ended.

Along with the band’s debut release “SoulAviv” and the follow-up “SoulAviv 2,” “Soul Service” is available from Sounds Write Productions, a division of URJ Books and Music.


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