The Gangsta Rabbi – The Gangsta Rabbi’s Thrash Opus – Year 1812 Fest. Overture In EbMAJ – Album Review
You might find it odd to learn I expected The Gangsta Rabbi’s return this time around. Every so often, when I get a spare minute or two…like the self-proclaimed Godfather of the independent music-scene I like to pretend I am, I’m watching over you all. When I can of course…I’ve worked with so many artists/bands over these past five-plus years that even I’m struggling to keep’em all straight in my head. In terms of what I remember over time, it’s largely a case of, some stand-out…some return over time…& sometimes it’s a combination of that and another important factor…some of you become like, almost fictional characters in a storyline I’m addicted to seeing continue. And I like to make sure everyone’s still out there and doing their thing, so I check on ya from time to time…because I care, genuinely – you’re all the superheroes of my universe. I think it was a couple weeks back that I learned of the Opus that The Gangsta Rabbi was working on…so part of me cracked a smile knowing that I’d likely soon see the return of one of the zaniest characters to ever grace these pages. I also happened to notice he was working on a documentary about his life in music & I clicked on the preview, just to check it out & see what was up.
Because for those of you unfamiliar with this ongoing saga of The Gangsta Rabbi, he was terminally diagnosed long ago at this point, and has continually beat the clock and found a way to get more time with us here on earth several times over. I like to think that its music that has kept him inspired enough to stick around; seeing that documentary clip was an interesting window into this man’s soul that I hadn’t had the chance to view yet…there’s a very real, very human, very dedicated musician here. While you’d have to assume that based on the sheer amount of music he’s made and the fact that he plays everything but the kitchen sink on his tunes for the most part…he’s clearly putting the work in and been loving what he’s been doing every step of the way…and honestly, I think that counts for something in this life. Hopefully, he feels the same; regardless of what you think of the music one way or the other – when you look at the total body of work, it’s astounding really…he’s achieved more than most musicians or artist have in one lifetime. All these thoughts aren’t necessarily part of this ‘review’ I suppose…I was just impressed by what I saw on the documentary…figured I might as well put it down here in writing that I for one, am looking forward to it. If you’ve read my reviews on TGR’s music & material in the past, you know I’ve been critical of much of it…I’ve always been real with him and there’s no use in lying to the good Rabbi at this stage…so genuinely, I’m saying I actually can’t wait to see the documentary and truly hope it’ll continue on revealing what it was like to be this guy throughout his career. I just don’t think you make music & noise like this without having a real story in there somewhere, you know what I mean? So consider me highly interested – I’m totally stoked to see it.
Dude scared the crap out of me when the record began with the crashing into “Opus #43 – 1st Solennelle” – that’ll get ya out of bed in the morning. At eight minutes in length, he storms around for about three minutes before taking a breather and launching into another couple furious minutes or so. The Gangsta Rabbi ain’t exactly known for subtly folks…he comes out pounding with sound from all-instruments-on-deck, much as you’d expect if you’re familiar with the man’s body of work like I am. He’ll go on to reveal that he is making a concentrated effort to get closer to the source material; quite often that’s revealed in the background layers as opposed to what you hearing thrashing around on the surface level of his tunes, but on this record and on this opener, you can already hear that The Gangsta Rabbi is stepping a bit further away from his rock-inclinations in favor of trying to dissect the classical roots of this record. I think it’s still going to be tough for people to absorb…that’s always going to be part & parcel of the good Rabbi’s style…but for those of us out there that can notice the difference of his music between records & songs, I think you’ll hear the effort in the definition of each part more-so than we have from him in the past and that there’s more structure on a song like “Opus #43 – 1st Solennelle” than we tend to find in much of the thrash-rock he goes after. Towards the final-third of this first track, he’ll also introduce the main theme and most recognizable aspect of the original Tchaikovsky tune and riff on that to the end in all his distorted, stomping & storming glory to begin the experience.
I’ll fully admit to not being familiar enough with Tchaikovsky’s version of this record to comment on how faithful these are to the originals…my guess would be that you’ve got the meat & potatoes essentials of what the main riff or melody would sound like and a whole lot of The Gangsta Rabbi surrounding them. You can hear the Russian influence on the melody of a track like “Opus #44 – Russian Folk Song,” which is good…I’d again, imagine that’s an essential part of the original. The shorter length, the more noticeable character in this tune…these are things that will help people digest and absorb this kind of demanding music to listen to with a bit more ease. In behind the crash & thrash…the brass section is actually having quite a time of its own…but there’s some decent stuff happening in there; it’s somewhat buried…but if you’re listening intently, you’ll notice it’s all making a valid contribution to this vibe. If anything, I might have dialed-back the guitars/bass even further on this record…I know that’s TGR’s thang & all…but I’m just trying to imagine how it might have all sounded with those background elements up front instead. Considering he was going for something different altogether with the classical-based idea in covering this opus – it might have been a good time to experiment with that. I still think this second cut is one of the strongest on his new record…but Rabbi my man…dropping an instrument or two along the way ain’t always a bad thing brother-man! It’s not admitting a weakness of some sort, or tearing off a limb of some kind…less CAN be more and that applies to YOU too my friend! And no, it is not lost on me that this particular advice is like talking into the wind or a speaker full of TGR.
“Opus #45 – 2nd Solennelle” has a bit more definition to the parts as they come at ya once again. I’m not gonna say you’ve got anything like verse/chorus/verse here, but that’s not what the originals would have been like either. Bottom line is, The Gangsta Rabbi is making a concentrated effort to pattern this song much more closely to the original than some of the others…a bit less him and a bit more Tchaikovsky in this one in that respect. There’s an added…something…not sure what it is really…I think it comes in around the 3:30 mark or so, could be a trumpet…I dig that sound. I think he’s also got some interesting textures combined with the flutes, clarinet, recorder, and melodica in there (I think – there’s a LOT going on people, as usual, doin’ my best here…) – it’s as intense & demanding to listen to as you’ve no doubt come to expect from the good Rabbi…but I do think that the more noticeable separation between parts and the adherence to a more specific structure pays off a little more for him here on “Opus #45 – 2nd Solennelle.” Gets pretty gnarly by the end…it’s a lot to stick with to get to that point mind you, but it’s a more refined version of TGR’s music nonetheless.
I’ve often wondered how the good Rabbi hears his own music and what he picks up in the compositions he takes on. I think you kind of have to know his catalog quite a bit to be able to separate a lot of what might make one sound-filled track from another, like the ominous background layer that shows up on “Opus #46 – The Battle Of Borodino” – that’s a new addition. He’s got an insane amount of brass on this track, so I’m thinking that’s where that low-rumble is coming from; or even the end of this song and how he chops it up in the final moments…that’s new too more or less. Essentially, what I’m saying is within the ‘wall-of-sound’ effect, there are still tiny nuances in his music that you can hear do in fact, make them different from the others you might have heard. The approach is much the same in terms of the amount of ingredients added in, but the recipe changes slightly each time if you’re listening closely enough. Of all the tracks on this record, probably my favorite of the bunch…it does genuinely sound more like a battle than any of the other tunes do, due to that low-end atmosphere provided consistently by the brass…so I think you’ve gotta give “Opus #46 – The Battle Of Borodino” a few more points for being thematically more on-point. Plus some of those cymbal punches in the mid-section of this tune also sound like punches on the battlefield – the drums also have the same effect in being like bombs going off in the background…or canon-fire, whatever was being used during Tchaikovsky’s time alright? The big BOOMING sounds…you know what I mean. And it’s here in a track like this that the distorted thrash of The Gangsta Rabbi becomes more suited to the idea itself…it often sounds frantic, intense, and explosive – so what better place for that style than a song that’s got something to do with the battlefront? It works.
“Opus #47 – 3rd Solennelle” also has that more-defined sound to it, allowing for a bit more of The Gangsta Rabbi’s efforts to come through the speakers clearly from part-to-part. You can definitely hear him sticking more closely to the Tchaikovsky script on this tune and getting some of these moments to really stand-out for the essence of their original melody. I swear you’d never know that from the beginning of some of these tunes and this is no exception to that rule. Think of it like how you blow up a balloon – you’ve got the most air in your lungs on those first several breaths don’t ya? So too does the Rabbi…and Dinah blows that horn, believe me. So the opening moments of lots of these tunes come out with the most gas at the beginning of the journey…so does your car, so do YOU at the beginning of the day…so we all share this in common. Just so happens The Gangsta Rabbi is a lot more pronounced and present in how he goes about all this…he can be big, bold and burly at the beginning of a track and your heart will probably get goin’ faster than it was with the jolt of how some of these songs come in. “Opus #47 – 3rd Solennelle” gets a bit muddier towards the end of the idea from where it starts, but there’s still enough definition here to make out the individual parts and enough clarity to the idea overall.
Where I did tend to notice an improvement this time around for the music of The Gangsta Rabbi, was largely in the brass section. TGR plays three different types of trombones, flutes, trumpets, French horns, and even something called a euphorium on this record, which is like, a tenor tuba of some kind. But you get the point – there’s a lot of brass happenin’ here…and I’ve tended to criticize that a bit in the past as needing a bit more oomph to find that tone he’s seeking out. While it’s still impossible for a mere mortal to know exactly what this dude is going for, to me, it sounds like things worked out a lot better for him in that department on this record. That could be because he’s adapting classical music here…maybe he made that conscious choice to make the more traditional instruments a bit smoother in that sense, as opposed to the rock-records he’s taken on in the past. But I think on a track like “Opus #48 – Thema Aus Overture” you can hear the results of a more focused effort on hitting the tone he’s been going after. There’s always going to be a relentless clashing of sounds – that’s just classic TGR and how he does his thang…but he’s still finding ways to challenge himself and clearly making an effort in terms of attempting to adhere to the material of what would be a tremendously tough record to adapt in any style of music. “Opus #48 – Thema Aus Overture” brings back that building theme, intact even! And you’ll recognize it…it’s one of the most revered classics; even as twisted and grinding as the good Rabbi has pulverized the sound into this tune, it’s still comforting to recognize something you know in all this madness going on. Like the raft of sanity you so desperately needed & hoped would come for you.
I actually kind of dig what he’s doing with the recorder on “Opus #49 – Battalion Closer/Fanfare” at the beginning. It again recalls the main theme of this opus and pulls it into the battle-cry of music goin’ on. In some aspects, he’s given himself a bit more space on this song and a little but more clarity to the listening experience in doing so, recharging at moments & breaking at times before surging ahead. Probably the cut on this record that makes the most major effort at bringing the melody to the surface. Kind of an odder mix of playful battle sounds in a way…The Gangsta Rabbi lighten-up a little with the way he approaches the melody of this particular track, and then surges into action after the first minute passes by. He’s got several layers blasting away as usual, but you can hear how the low-end brass contributes and the brighter melody attempts to prevail through the grinding distortion of the guitars. It’s often brash, but there’s still enough palatable moments that you can discern the original ideas and follow enough of the melody from start to finish. As always, TGR will make you work for it…but again, if you’re listening, it’s definitely there.
Man…I tell ya. As a music-reviewer, we see many things that are bizarre. One of the more constant things I actually run into is the ol’ ‘extra track’ let’s say. That’s the one that, when you were reviewing the record earlier on in the week the album didn’t have before – you know the one? Sigh. I see it ALL the time…I honestly don’t even get why it happens, or why never once in this situation no one has ever in the history of me seeing this extra bonus song, has ever reached out to simply let a brother know. It ain’t just The Gangsta Rabbi – it’s a constant thing out there with artists/bands that haven’t actually finalized their album lineup or they make a last minute addition…I don’t know, like I said earlier, I really don’t get it. That being said…I guess if you’re going to sneak another cut onto an album, make it one that’s THIRTY-SEVEN MINUTES LONG? C’mon Rabbi. Let’s be real here bro – that’s cold man, that’s ice cold. I’m totally just kidding…he’s got the full track-listing strung together as one here at the end for ya so you’ve got this enormous cut called “Year 1812 Festival Thrash Overture In EbMajor All Opus” – one easy click and you can take the whole ride all over again. That’s an example of that situation with the extra track being an okay thing…but as for the rest of you, you’ve been warned – don’t be sneakin’em on there, cause I’m always listening, always watching, and plan on remaining the self-proclaimed Godfather to the independent music-scene for many more moons to come still. As bizarre as he may be, as exhausted as I tend to be after listening to a full record from The Gangsta Rabbi – I’m still thankful that he continues to exist out there in my world, doin’ his thang, and that he’s genuinely happy doing it. I don’t think my words or anyone else’s out there are ever really going to change him all that much, I just think he’s happy to know someone out there is truly listening and quite content to keep noising it up over there where he’s hangin’ out. Hopefully he’ll share many more of those moons with me and with us all…the world is far too full of squares out there…characters like this guy really make this whole life trip an experience to remember, and I’m grateful for the contribution he’s made to my experience here.
Find out more about the music of The Gangsta Rabbi at his official site: http://www.gangstarabbi.com
Join the thousands of bands & artists reviewed at sleepingbagstudios by clicking here!