The Gangsta Rabbi – 2nd King Of JEWISH PUNK #31/69 – Album Review
For those just tuning into the story/music/life of Steve Lieberman, aka The Gangsta Rabbi, allow me to catch you up quickly for context…there are a few details to be known before listening and a couple new details about this artist in-general. Steve has terminal leukemia and has been diagnosed for some time now; in my opinion, given the grave nature of his health in our first interaction well-over a year ago – he’s not only continued to beat the odds but he’s also been a constant reminder of the power of music. Perhaps…I’m just theorizing here…but perhaps his persistence is largely due to his love of his favorite hobby…I’d be the first to agree that music has extraordinary therapeutic capabilities…maybe that’s been the key for him all along. Regardless of anyone’s opinion, pass or fail, the simple fact that he’s been so down & out yet remained so focused on creating, writing, recording…THAT is what I find inspiring about this guy. I can’t imagine being in his situation and finding half the will this guy has to do anything at all; thanks to the example set here by Steve…maybe I’ll be at least able to give it a respectable effort when my time starts to come for me.
Sounds potentially a bit morbid…I think Steve and I would both argue it’s all realistic observation and nothing more. He’s more unafraid of his likely passing than you’d expect…but also far from welcoming it or encouraging it on. Most recently, he spent most of January this year in a coma, suffered memory damage as a result…and then…even with ALL those setbacks working against him – he still CHOSE to relearn what he’d lost and found a way back to recording his music. With the exception of a song called “25 Days In A Coma” that appears in the late-stages of The Gangsta Rabbi’s new album 2nd King Of JEWISH PUNK #31/69, the rest of what we he’s rocking over the sixteen-track album is reworked tunes from his endless back-catalog. That is, #31 referring to CD’s and #69 referring to albums – the Rabbi’s been a busy man, make no mistake. It would be my greatest hope to see people live life so enthusiastically, passionately & vigorously like Steve does…what a world that would be!
There you have it…essentially you’re caught up on the latest about what’s up with The Gangsta Rabbi. Musically-speaking…while I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is going to be that crossover album that gains him an entirely new fan-base…existing fans and Steve himself should be happy about a few notable improvements made along the way. As noisy & lo-fi as the opening track “My Very Last Year 3468” may be – gotta keep in mind punk’s still allowed to be punk – but in the context of his own music, you can hear the added space in parts throughout this first song that lead to a greater clarity. That is…you know…until around the three-thirty mark where the dude puts it all back in there, but you get the idea. The Gangsta Rabbi’s music in the past has been so fully overcrowded that even making out individual parts could prove to be tough; the added space in the mix and instrumentation is a benefit to him now as the album begins and carries on into “Little Kosher Girl.” A lot of what used to be so upfront and sharing the same space in the mix has now been relegated properly into the background to thicken the atmosphere but not be so close to the infamous ‘wall of sound’ that he’d been creating beforehand. You get solid riffs on “Little Kosher Girl” and some pretty quick but rad solo additions in the second-minute that allow those same instruments in the background to have their own moment in the spotlight. The Gangsta Rabbi’s shouts sound pretty decent here…the man’s still got a tremendous amount of power to yell out his words and even in the thick of the mix on “Little Kosher Girl” he still comes through fiercely, but perhaps even more-so now with the improvements on the mix. It’s still unabashedly thrashing-punk at every possible second…but undeniably easier to take-in than his past work…you might have to trust me on that, but it’s the truth!
Another example would be “Jewish Riot” – listening to the difference that the clarity & space made for his bass-playing to come through made all the difference in the world here. You can hear SO MUCH more clearly the frantic, scattered, unique & creative bass-lines he’s come up with here…as many instruments as he takes-on and plays, he’s known more for his bass than any other instrument I believe…so I gotta admit, it was kind of nice to let it have its moment here on “Jewish Riot.” The kind of parts that when you get to hear them from this new-angle, sound impressive, intricate and tough to pull off…and again, I think you gotta admire that for what it is. The bass stole the show for me on “Jewish Riot” to the point where I hardly noticed the rest of the song, which was alright…but being able to hear the musicianship more clearly was what really grabbed me here.
“Bassett Hound Pull-Toy” makes use of walking bass-lines and crunchy guitar-riffs…as much fun as it sounds like The Gangsta Rabbi is having here, it gets a little on the out-of-control side of things timing-wise & all-out chaos-wise. What DID work for me on this track more-so than the others so far was the vocals…I actually really liked them here on “Bassett Hound Pull-Toy” and thought where they sat in the mix was perfect for the song. You can even hear the words clearly on this tune – and believe me when I say it’s about as rare to catch the words from The Rabbi at times as it is to photograph Bigfoot…for me, again, it made that difference and showed that evolution in his music from record-to-record. He’s clearly adapting and finding a way to improve on what he’s done in the past and the effort is notable.
Of course…I could very well be adapting myself…maybe I’ve heard so much of The Gangsta Rabbi’s music that it IS starting to grow on me…but I think it’s more likely the result of his focus, determination and effort to make something more listenable. Even as grinding as “A Dove Flies Over Baghdad” can be at times, he’s coming much closer to an ideal mix and taking a stronger approach to where things sit level-wise in the finished product. Again…regardless of anyone’s opinion good or bad, this is undeniably making his music stronger and more accessible. “A Dove Flies Over Baghdad” has an interesting drum-thing happening in it too…sounds almost like a cough…I’m not quite sure how to describe it but it was actually added a really interesting random-texture into this tune.
“I Want A Bass With A Whammy Bar” – does he really? He seems to have every other instrument he wants to play…guitars, trombones, flutes, melodica…even a mangal vadya…so someone pass this guy a whammy bar if he wants one, will ya? Mixed feelings on this one…felt like the lyrical-flow definitely showed a bit of those influences/pacing of The Who that shows up in his music on occasion. Decent separation of the parts of the song structurally…maybe still a bit on the full-side – but as a result, the final breakdown/collapse of “I Want A Bass With A Whammy Bar” ends up working out really well.
Sometimes The Rabbi just wants to yell…I see no reason not to get behind that conceptually. ”Get It! Get It! Get It! Shift Shift Shift” has a chant-style chorus built from the title that is enthusiastically punched along with in the music…calm down the ol’ double-kick though brother-man…I’m not sure if that’s Steve playing the kick or if he’s got a rabbit sitting on each of the pedals kicking with everything they got. For a song like ”Get It! Get It! Get It! Shift Shift Shift” I probably would have gone with a length that’s more suited to the punk-genre and cut this one in half…but The Gangsta Rabbi has never really been about short-songs…which admittedly, is kind of odd for the genre at times. In an effort to keep the listeners engaged and following closely through an entire album…shortening a few of these ideas will definitely not hurt him – the frantic nature of the music is always a very demanding thing for people to listen to with all that’s constantly going on. That being said…as frantic as “G-d Loves Me Tho’ I’m Crazy” was at its most-full – mixing it up with different approaches to the vocals like he’s done here also adds something strong to a listening experience by giving our ears something new to listen to. Vocally, I’ve found this record to be head-and-shoulders above what I’ve heard from The Gangsta Rabbi in the past and “G-d Loves Me Tho’ I’m Crazy” is definitely one of his stronger performances overall.
I had to laugh out loud for a moment – when “3 Little Puppies” began I said to myself, ‘well…this is practically a ballad when it comes to Steve’s music isn’t it?’ Ha! I’ll admit…wasn’t my favorite vocal-flow on the record – BUT – I think you can hear the words much more clearly and I think that “3 Little Puppies” is perhaps the least-filled song on the album. Hook-wise, I didn’t really feel it personally…that might have something to do with The Gangsta Rabbi adapting to a more musically-sparse atmosphere, it might not…it’s hard to say for certain. What I’d say for certain as far as what I hear goes…is that while I didn’t really dig “3 Little Puppies” as much as the rest content-wise, I did end up digging The Rabbi’s approach to this one more than most. You can hear the effort to chill-out a bit on this tune and I can only imagine that for many, that’s going to lead to a more listenable experience.
Of course…where there’s a chill moment, you know that The Gangsta Rabbi is going to come back full-steam ahead…I mean, he barely had time to write the words for “Yada Yada Ya Ya,” know what I mean? One of the better tunes on the record…I dig the slightly lethargic sound to the tone of the way he sings the title of this tune…gives it the right attitude. The solos in this song and some of the instrumentation worked out pretty well for him…fans of noise-rock might find their way into the middle of this cut. Good pace, decent hooks and once again a solid job on the vocals…I wasn’t expecting a song called “Yada Yada Ya Ya” to be one of the bigger hits for me on a record, but here we are.
I also like music that expands my horizons a bit too…I’m fine with not getting something on the first time out or having to re-listen to something several times to better understand a record. I dig looking stuff up too…and learning while I listen…but of course, there needs to be a stimulant to do so. On “Midianites” – I had to head over to Google to track down a definition…seemed like a cool word but I had no idea what it might mean. I’ll fully admit also that I STILL don’t really ‘know’ what it means though I have a slightly better idea now…at the very least I understand it would refer to a group of people…according to the internet they ‘were idolaters, and often led Israel astray to worship their gods’ – which may or may-not be a great way to sum that up…it’d take a slight amount of bible-study for me to catch up on that completely. That double-kick on “Midianites” snapped me out of my learning and back into the music…was a bit too erratic in the breakdown at first but actually settled in decently quickly after…but for-the-love-of…Steve man…ONE beat on its own once in a while ain’t a bad thing either brother! Mixed-reactions & results to “Midianites” for me. “1st Diaspora Egypt” feels like it immediately begins where “Midianites” left off but heads decently enough in its own direction soon afterwards. Musically you can feel The Gangsta Rabbi rebounding from that dose of soft-core punk he doled-out to us on “3 Little Puppies” three-tracks ago and he’s been getting more full as the record marches on once again. I do dig the chorus of “1st Diaspora Egypt” and how the music punches into it…strong idea on the musical-riff there and it makes an impact on us…memorable. For me…as much as I thought “1st Diaspora Egypt” was one of this album’s more decent tunes idea-wise – I still think that it might have benefitted from being half the length of its six-plus minutes. Remember that The Gangsta Rabbi makes his music on his own, DIY-style…anyone out there that’s done that themselves knows for a fact that one of the hardest things to accomplish is gaining an understanding of when to edit the idea down. The Gangsta Rabbi has made admirable changes to the mix…now it’s just keeping the strength in the ideas by not over-expanding them too much. Giving us a reason to return, Rabbi, is never going to be a bad thing…if it’s too short and the people want more – that’s what the repeat button is for…but if something goes too long for a listener’s attention-span…you run the risk of losing them and there’s zero that can be done about it. Just something to consider.
Bass on “Puppy In A Cup” came out decently…gets a bit masked in-behind the cutting grind of guitars towards the middle of the song but for the most-part, this came out alright for The Gangsta Rabbi. Most of this tune is different from the rest…and I dig that for sure. The guitar-work generally sticks to The Rabbi’s style of thrashing & bright-distortion…but aside from that I thought the instrumentation had moments where it stood out solidly along the way. Vocally too…I felt like the lyrical flow & structure of this song and the following “Cancer Ward #3 – Phlebotomy” came out sounding more unique than much of what we’ve heard so far on this record. Dare I say it? It nearly sounds at times on “Cancer Ward #3 – Phlebotomy” that our JEWISH PUNK hero is singing and not just yelling? Could it be? The improvement in tone is noticeable, even as the guitars descend into noise-work chaos surrounding them…I like what The Gangsta Rabbi’s doing on this cut and that break around the three-minute mark was killer. He sounds so close to heading into that approach, sound & style of The Who once more as he sings the chorus of “Cancer Ward #3 – Phlebotomy” but avoids it but making a last-second turn & twist at the end of its flow, tone and sound.
“25 Days In A Coma” sounds closer to the lo-fi mix on the album’s opening track “My Very Last Year 3468.” Not sure if completely works for me…I know I’m always asking for a little less in The Gangsta Rabbi’s music but by comparison to the rest & with the others on this record, these two felt a bit thinner and tinnier in their sound. Might work for some…I hear a tremendous opportunity for the bass-lines, tones and low-end to get involved and establish their presence here. I can hear’em in the mix and there’s some imaginative parts in there…but I think thickening those up in the overall sound on “25 Days In A Coma” would be key. As it stands…we get a whole lot of guitar and the pre-set drum sound…at nearly eight-minutes in length, this one becomes one of the tougher tracks to stick with on the album now fifteen songs into its playlist. Of course having said that…I challenge anyone else out there to spend “25 Days In A Coma” and come out with something sounding better – think you could do it? Probably harder than you’d think no matter how difficult you already might think it is.
Ending with “The Punk Meets The Godfather” – I think you can hear that even The Gangsta Rabbi is starting to lose a bit of steam by the final moments here. I wouldn’t say he’s any less jazzed about this tune than any of the rest, but you can hear the power of his vocals starting to fade a bit here. It’s been a long haul to get here and he’s put in an impressive amount of work and improvements to his sound over the course of this album. What The Gangsta Rabbi is creating might not be music for the masses…but you can hear things are improving still…even with all the odds having been stacked against him. Between now & however much time he’s still got, he could very well put out another 20 albums at the rate he writes & records…you never know…he might just go out on the high-note he’s been looking for.
Find out more about the music of The Gangsta Rabbi at the official site at: http://www.gangstarabbi.com/
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