The Gangsta Rabbi – The Gangsta Rabbi’s Tommy – Album Review
Perhaps any press is good press…I’m sure we’re all familiar with the notion that this is the case. This is the third appearance of The Gangsta Rabbi at our pages here…yet so far there’s only been one approach in the music, and one possible outcome for my opinion more or less. In this chapter of the saga…The Gangsta Rabbi, aka Steve Lieberman, takes on the entire record of The Who’s Tommy to the familiar mixed results of which many of my previous comments on his music from past reviews, still apply.
For those wondering why we continue to cover his music…the answer is quite simple – Steve’s been unable to attain an honest review since being diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer…and I’ve been unafraid to give him one. Hesitant at first…because it was a line that I had yet to cross…but at the end of the day, I feel that the responsibility I have to the planet, to our readers, to music – and especially to Steve…has been the most important. I’ve been as honest as I can be with you all over these past four years at sleepingbagstudios…which has made us an anomaly in independent journalism, but one that I can live with and be proud of at the end of each day.
My new theory…especially when realizing that The Gangsta Rabbi was not only taking on Tommy, but also radically extending it (For example, the fifteen-plus minutes that “A Quick One, While He’s Away” and the “Overture From Tommy” combine for in comparison to the less than six-minutes on The Who’s record) is that Steve might have missed a diagnosis on one other part of his life – and that is synesthesia. With the amount of insanity, madness and straight-up walls of sound you’ll hear in his music – I’m beginning to think there’s validity to the possibility that maybe Steve actually sees sound where others don’t; like in each particle and molecule of air around us. I’m not sure I have much else of an explanation as to why he chooses to keep the music so consistently full to the absolute brim.
As these first two tracks on The Gangsta Rabbi’s Tommy began…I felt like we might be in for a very similar adventure as we’d already experienced in the past. A lot of yelling instead of singing with melody…a lot of distortion…a lot of trombone sounds that are well-wide of the intended mark. They just barely sit as recognizable to The Who in the style of The Gangsta Rabbi…and again, with the addition of each and every possible instrument and sound…the same vocal approach to nearly everything he does…the blending of all these songs into one becomes logical to your own ears. That’s just going to be how it happens for the most part…that’s how our brains work and how our faces receive sound. The fact that there is little to no difference in each song’s approach and need to add in the kitchen-sink to every song always has Steve walking a dangerously fine line that really hinders his music from standing out amongst itself. There are some slight differences…”Captain Walker It’s A Boy” has a little bit more space in it at first…there’s that. Or the harmonica (I think?) in “1921” – that was new to me. Everything is right in the center…which also of course makes it tough to really separate in our minds as we listen to it – even though the separation of these sounds, in my opinion, is probably extremely easy for Steve himself. Synesthesia…as I’ve claimed.
I mean…YOU try to explain it all and see if you can draw to a different conclusion. I see from a picture on the Soundcloud page with The Gangsta Rabbi’s Tommy…that he’s using a bow on his bass or guitar…the picture itself is a little distorted, like Steve himself…but maybe that alone offers some insight as to why “Amazing Journey” can end up sounding much like the “Overture From Tommy” and much of the rest of his music. “Amazing Journey” has the signature yelling/echo combination of Steve’s vocals…indiscernible for the most part…a sound that would be much more likely to make some kind of sense covering Sabbath or Ozzy’s music in some way, shape or form.
The only song I can visibly see has been left out of The Who’s original album line-up is “Sparks” – there are a few others that Steve combines together, but this one seems to be absent entirely unless my memory is off slightly here. Not like the ambition of Lieberman needs to rise to any other challenges…taking on 99% of this record wouldn’t even be something most musicians would ever even attempt as the mountain is simply too high to climb. His thrashing style suits a song like “Eyesight To The Blind Hawker” probably the best so far…and the following “Christmas See Me Feel Me” still seems to retain enough of its classic-sound to still be recognizable to its original. So don’t get me wrong…the guy has his moments like we all do somewhere along the lines – it’s just that The Gangsta Rabbi’s line is anything but point A to point B. His line is a gigantic, sound-filled squiggle…and that might be appealing to some of you out there. Personally I almost always require a nap once I’m finished listening to Steve’s music…much like progressive-rock or the bizarreness of Primus in that sense…this stuff is so intense to listen to, so jam-packed with sound that it can straight-up exhaust ya. “Cousin Kevin” is right about that point where I can feel that exhaustion creeping in for the first time…that consistent distortion and same sound & tones of the guitars/bass really stay the course…and it’s beginning to blend his ideas into one once again. As much as I might have the synesthesia theory working for me…even if you could see it…wouldn’t you recognize it for sounding as jammed as it does? Even a song like “Acid Queen” which makes much more sense for Steve’s sound & style…if you look at it in the sense of its relationship to a physical wav-format on the Soundcloud page – it’s every bit as full of a line from beginning to end as any of the track. There is hardly a space without sound…a break in the madness…or any physical evidence to support the fact that there is a single-second you’ll hear without an overdriven intensity of sound.
Brushing past the “Underture” of the original-record, he combines the next two, “Do You Think It’s Alright/Fiddle About” into one short burst of madness before plunging into what should be the most clearly defined track on the album and most recognizable song to most, “Pinball Wizard.” What do I think of this…how do I express this one? The actual recording of the song seems to have suffered the most in the production…which is a bizarre time for that to have shown up through what’s truly been pretty consistent in that sense, love it or hate it. Then all of a sudden…right when the most people are apt to be listening…the first audible glitches appear…and if anything else, you’d assume that Steve would have had the kid-gloves on to protect this beloved song to so many. But like everything else we’ve already learned and we’ve already learned about Steve…it’s best not to assume that anything will be like anything at all you’d expect it to be. “Pinball Wizard” ends up being too close to the other sounds you’ve heard on the record so far…and honestly the effort on part of the vocals in this particular tune kind of serves to highlight that not enough effort is being made in this department. That’s partly because he knows he’s not a singer for the most part, and partly because he can hide behind the yelling and walls of sound he creates…but there’s nearly no excuse for a track this recognizable to sound anything other than what we’re familiar with. To be brutally honest with the guy…I think he kinda tanked this one more than it should have come out sounding…and I think he’s capable of more than this.
I think he even shows that he’s capable of the more I claim he is right away on the combination of “There’s A Doctor/Go To The Mirror.” It’s got a little bit more enthusiasm in the music…a little more bounce to it…and it actually makes a pretty killer transition in between its two parts, which are well-defined enough to be able to separate clearly from each other. The next song begs the question “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” – and I don’t know that he’s listening for a certain fact, but I can sure hear The Gangsta Rabbi. How could you not – the dude’s yelling at ya the entire record through! And again, as weird of a fact or approach that this may be…at least it suits tracks like “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” just that much more. Even the smashes & crashes of the tin-like cymbals on “Smash The Mirror” seem to make more sense to the ears in relation to the original tune and the title-itself. There ARE things that Steve does that occasionally work out for the best…but whether on purpose or by happy accident, I’m not completely sure.
“Sensation” is much more akin to the sensory overload he’s served up beforehand. Much of this sameness, despite the programming differences, is also those drum-sounds. They’re synthetic, which is fine…but like much of the guitars, bass, vocals and other instruments, the tones he’ll use are the same ones you’ll find throughout the record…and at song fifteen – there’s no doubt that this is a marathon of listening that most people will not be able to finish. “Miracle Cure/Sally Simpson” is nearly there…it’s almost where it needs to be…and were it not for the drained power in the trombone sounds, he’d probably have this one closest to what he’s looking for. Steve could stand to add a LOT more melody into his music – even if thrash-rock is his ultimate goal…and at the very least, “Miracle Cure/Sally Simpson” provides some of that on The Gangsta Rabbi’s Tommy.
It’s always tough to review music that’s falling short of its ambition. As a person – Steve Lieberman is about as wonderful of a person as you could ever hope to cross paths with; I’ve had multiple conversations with him behind the scenes that have proven time and again that he’s a thoughtful, caring individual. I’ve written much harsher reviews to music I felt was a complete insult to music itself (See the Wondercat review for reference) – and I’ve never felt like Steve was disrespecting music so much as I’ve just felt that he’s addicted to…like…ALL of the sounds. Not just a few of the sounds – but ALL of them. Whatever sounds you’re thinking of and hearing right NOW – those ones! And a whole bunch more of them. And then times ten. So again…when a track like “I’m Free” comes out sounding altogether too close to songs we’ve already heard upon this experience…just understand that I believe he’s honestly coming from a place of love and enthusiasm. Maybe over-enthusiasm…but enthusiasm just the same. And much better to be that way than just flat out disrespectful to music (Again, see the Wondercat review for a defining glimpse at what that’s like).
“Welcome” begins the descent into the final tracks of the record…and no lie…at this point of the record The Gangsta Rabbi is sounding like he’s nearly out of gas himself here on what sounds like a song that’s missing that jumpstart needed to spark the interest. The back & forth sway of the backing instruments sounds a little bit too juvenile to be taken fully seriously…and the layers of vocals keep the lyrics entire unrecognizable once again. It would be impossible to sing along with Steve…impossible to sing along with even by knowing these originals inside & out with the way he’s recorded the vocals. The grind of “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” isn’t too rough…it’s short but will more than likely make more sense to you in its fiery burst than most.
There is no doubt in my mind that at twenty-tracks deep, this is much too-much for anyone out there. Even Steve himself, who makes music at such a rapid-pace that I’m not sure how much time he stops to spend listening to the results of his efforts. The delayed effects of the vocals can quite often mess with any attempts at keeping a track’s original timing or shape…like they do on the final track “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” The trombones are once again doing their best to stomp out any audible melody into flat-tones…which again, has been an extremely all-too-consistent part of The Gangsta Rabbi’s music. If anything I could recommend that would potentially help him out for another recording…it’s to put down that brass man…it’s rarely worked in favor of the ideas he’s had.
Again…much credit to the man for taking on an idea that many people would never have the courage to. I’ve got little to no doubt that you’d agree with my assessment here, no matter what genre you love most or sounds you like to listen to. There’s a lot that The Gangsta Rabbi needs to consider in heading into an ambition such as this…and I think that the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ logic applies here more often than it doesn’t. It’s about as tough as a listening experience can be when you know the music is coming from a place of genuine love & respect, made by someone you know truly loves it…but there has to be more to a record than just good intentions, and I think that’s true of The Gangsta Rabbi’s Tommy.
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