The Gangsta Rabbi – The King Of Jewish Punk #30 & #68 – Album Review
The Gangsta Rabbi is all the proof you need that some people truly want to be heard. How each person chooses to go about that pursuit as a musician is of course an individual thing…there are many approaches…and if you follow this page regularly or are familiar with the music of Steve Lieberman, aka The Gangsta Rabbi, well…then you’re already familiar with the fact he doesn’t just use one approach – he uses them all…and generally, at the same time. Believe it or not – this is his 30th CD and 68th recording…so if you dig it, there’s lots of music out there for you to choose from when it comes to The Gangsta Rabbi.
And though he more or less has the one extreme gear of ‘add freakin’ everything’ – I suppose when you’ve reviewed as much music as I have by now, especially this particular artist – I can hear the variation between the enormous sounds & jumbled ideas that come at you so ferociously more than I used to be able to. As far as I know…The King Of Jewish Punk #30 & #68 are revamped tunes from his back catalog…and yes, when you push play and launch into “4th Diaspora” you will immediately ask yourself – ‘what on earth did a song like this sound like BEFORE it was re-worked?’
And you would be right to ask that question. As I’ve mentioned in past reviews on The Gangsta Rabbi – Steve hears music in an entirely different way than the rest of us do. What he creates, how he creates it and even the chaotic end results obviously completely bring him joy and I’d never personally begrudge him that. As for the rest of us out there listening though…what we hear in the mix & madness of The Gangsta Rabbi is generally overloaded, tough to separate from the swirling blend of non-stop sound & all-out punk-fueled madness. “4th Diaspora” couldn’t be a more perfect example of the sounds I expected I’d hear from Steve even before pushing play…given that they’re older tunes I didn’t expect these songs to necessarily sound like an evolution – but I also didn’t expect him to come at us so intensely right off the drop! Steve puts it all-in within seconds and turns up the punk-abrasion quickly…including the use of a mangal vadya…which…I’m guessing I’ve heard in his music somewhere along the line but not quite as prominently as you hear on this opening tune. That’s a sound that…ummm…well…that’s a sound that takes some getting used to; due to its pitchy tones sounding like a mini-set of bagpipes, that’s gonna be a tough sell on a lot of ears out there. You can hear clearly though…and credit to Steve for this…I did feel like you can hear that influence of The Who on his music early on in this record; for those that don’t know, I’ve already reviewed The Gangsta Rabbi’s all-cover albums of The Who’s material earlier on, you can check that out here.
Again, I feel like it’s only after intensely listening to a lot of Steve’s music that I can say that “Hal’lel #467” has something different to offer than the rest. I thought the beginning had some definition you could hear to the parts and some clever breakdowns, stops, starts, ideas with the vocal-effects and some solid heaviness in the bass-lines in behind it all. For being a longer-tune in length, I think he’s done a better job here to create that separation in what we here than the immediate attack of the opening tune. There’s a BIT of space in this tune…and that kind of pacing and metering can make all the difference in the world when you’re listening to like, the extreme ends of acid, punk & noise rock all blended together as you’ll typically find in The Gangsta Rabbi’s music…it does allow our minds to effectively absorb a little bit of the musical-madness he creates. I think that counts for something; comparison is natural as well…and I think you’ll hear between these first two cuts that this track becomes more palatable to the earholes as a result of the more spread-out sound and pace.
“Crotch Rocket” actually takes the opposite approach with more things happening in the music constantly & consistently – but I felt like this tune actually somehow pulled out a serious win. It’s still a lot full from every angle, but there are things you can latch onto here…there’s a nearly post-punk set of tones that run through this one…the guitars are loose but passionate…the vocals fit the atmosphere on this one really well too. There are hooks supplied from the bass that really work well…the drums for the most part reign in their craziness to keep enough of this track on the rails…and apart from that mangal vadya sound punching holes in our face – this is actually pretty close to something I’d listen to in the noise or punk genres. That being said…that mangal vadya has got to go.
“Crotch Rocket” is a solid example of that full-sound of The Gangsta Rabbi…or like…let’s call it ‘the maximum fill’ – like that’s the track where he reaches the threshold on where enough is enough. Right around the corner…is “Jewish Boy In The Moshpit” – which…to some extent…you have to appreciate the pure punk-ness of this entire track – BUT – I’d say this is all-out too much of absolutely everything. This is beyond that ‘fill line’ – and Steve’s actually doing some pretty rad things on the bass about halfway through this song; good luck getting to those – they’re super-tough to hear in this all-out sound-slaughter. Beyond the constant in your face sounds…there are so many things happening in this song at such a blazing speed that the odds of getting that timing perfect would be a million-to-one…and there are many timing issues in this tune by the time it wraps up. For some people…especially musicians and audiophiles…it can be tough to want to come back to a track like this one when things don’t quite line-up as they should.
I’ll give the ‘best title’ award to “My Spleen Is A Beastmachine” – which is another tune where I felt like you can hear that influence of The Who bleed into the buried rhythm in the music. Dig the snarl in The Gangsta Rabbi’s voice around the three-minute mark…a few of the guitar ideas made enough sense to my brain to enjoy…that definition between parts exists more solidly here than in most tracks in his catalog as well…there’s positives. However, “My Spleen Is A Beastmachine” but my brain is not…and I can already feel that familiar wear of the intensity & length of the tunes that The Gangsta Rabbi writes…that double-kick obsession can make things seem a little longer than they should be sometimes. I don’t expect the slow-jam to come around the corner on this record – or ever for that matter – Steve’s about being fast & kicking-ass & that’s about all there is to it. So when “Puppy” began barking its madness at us with a furious pace…I kind of had to smile a bit; Steve is NEVER going to slow down is he? For those that don’t know his backstory – he’s currently battling terminal post=polythycemia vera myelofibrosis myeloprolifirative/myeloplastic leukemia stage 5 (high risk)…and if his music is any indication – he puts up one heck of a fight! “Puppy” has a tiny bit more melody you can hear…it wrestles between the vocal-tones and trombone sounds over dominance for what those tones should be at times…but again…you gotta admire the sheer energy and passion he clearly has when he’s making music regardless of whether you do or you don’t like the sounds you find on The King Of Jewish Punk #30 & #68.
Main issue with so many sounds coming at you at all times and things blending into one another is that it would also potentially marginalize any points trying to be made. A song like “Holocaust” for instance, sounds just like any other track from The Gangsta Rabbi through 99% of its musical-DNA…and…well…should it? Like 100% of The Gangsta Rabbi’s music, the words are layered into an impossible mix to separate and hear for what they are…and again…on a track like “Holocaust” – should they be? I think things like this are important to consider when making music…I’ve got no doubt that Steve is probably saying something potentially more important on “Holocaust” but the resulting intensity of the jamming frequencies in the sound send any messages into the void. Maybe there’s a point I’m missing in equating the intensity in “Puppy” with “Holocaust” or any other on this record – but I honestly don’t think so…and I think that this might be an oversight on The Gangsta Rabbi’s part when it comes to how & what to express in his music by not adding some additional importance or separation to the sounds we hear on “Holocaust.”
“Punk Rock Chanukah” starts out with a pretty meaty riff…and of course, just as I accuse The Gangsta Rabbi of never being clear enough in the vocals on “Holocaust,” he of course has his most audible set of words in that very next song. In terms of accessibility…which I don’t think is a priority that runs very high atop The Gangsta’s list of things to include in his music…”Punk Rock Chanukah” still probably has the edge over nearly every track on this record. There is melody in the verse…the main riff is actually really beefy and has a great idea in it that would appeal to hard-rock & metal fans just as much as punk…that’s the positives here, along with Lieberman’s notably more clear presence vocally.
Punk-rock…at least in my opinion…is not something that can be judged solely by the music…it requires also the attitude in what’s being said, generally voicing an issue that would otherwise be silent. Lieberman’s got the music-direction right…there’s definitely a punk spirit that runs through everything he does – but that connection to the vocals comes and goes…and seems to go at what I’d consider to potentially be the most important times. “Exiled To The Diaspora” for instance…you’d figure would be a song where Steve would WANT those words to be heard a bit more in order to either create conversation or shed light on the story behind the inspiration for this tune…but that’s the part that’s still missing here in The Gangsta Rabbi’s music. Whether or not he, you, or ANYONE out there can/can’t sing – if you’re willing to grab the mic, let your voice truly be heard. I worry for Steve that a lot of what he does vocally would just sound like similar-tones & yelling to most people out there.
The guitars get a bit more of a chance to break-through on “Dogpark” and I liked that. It doesn’t stay that way necessarily when Steve adds everything AND the kitchen-sink into this tune as he tends to do – but I still think he presented one of the more defined ideas on the record here. He’s got good ideas on the effects in the vocal sounds and layers…some solid moments on the bass…the mangal vadya is still rocking but at least turned-down a bit in the mix to not quite be as harsh; as far as The Gangsta Rabbi is concerned, “Dogpark” is a pretty solid win…but at only halfway through a 90+ minute experience – chances are he’s already worn out most sets of ears that might listen without really doing too much to break up the overall intensity. Steve’s main thing seems to be that, just as you notice something or feel that way about the album – well then it must be time to go even faster right? And he’ll do that to you by quickening his pace on “Get Off The Bus.” I don’t know if he’s written this song from the perspective of the angry bus-drivers out there in the world or what…but I’ll admit the shouting of Liebermann suited this song and its theme a bit better than most did. I still feel like I need that reprieve from all the pounding and sound – but I do think that “Get Off The Bus” is one of the better tunes on this record.
I am often surprised that Lieberman himself doesn’t seek out a bit more variation in his overall sound. “The Labourer” sounds like a song by The Gangsta Rabbi…no mistaking that…and perhaps it’s so far back in his timeline in its original form that it’s part of what helped define that sound today…that could be. But if I’m listening to “The Labourer” objectively…it’s a bit lethargic, flat, wandering and meandering…at times it has focus but overall, The Gangsta Rabbi himself doesn’t sound nearly as into this song as you typically find him. I found myself wanting him to stretch a lot more creatively right around this point. Felt a lot the same about “Poor Man’s Labrador” and the listless trombone tones added into the mix…I would sit here and try to separate them out somehow…because underneath that one-layer too much is an alright noise-rock tune. Even though they supply the melody at points…they’re not quite hitting that mark as brightly as you’d hope they would and as a result kind of creates a mixed reaction in listening.
As clever as titles like “My Spleen Is A Beastmachine” and “We’re All Derek Jeter” are – it’s THOSE very indications of a deeper thread potentially running through the lyricism that also make it occasionally frustrating to not be able to hear all the words. I’m not saying we’ve all gotta be crystal clear through the microphone – don’t get me wrong – but I am saying that every once in a while wouldn’t hurt! We got like…”Punk Rock Chanukah” so far and that’s about it for being able to clearly hear what The Gangsta Rabbi might be saying. Is what he’s saying on “We’re All Derek Jeter” just as important as his words on “Holocaust?” We don’t get the privilege of knowing.
I’m not sure if the markings of #30 & #68 in the album’s title equates to an even split whereby you get one experience for ten songs and the other for the next set of ten…but there’s something noticeably different in this second-half energy & enthusiasm-wise from The Gangsta Rabbi. That usual passion in his approach is missing on songs like “The Labourer” and “Glad I’m A Vegetarian” – both of these tunes sound like a musician going through the motions but not necessarily reaching for anything new or exciting in their sound to really fire them up to perform. “Glad I’m A Vegetarian” thankfully at least has an inventive guitar solo that sounds inspired enough to break up the monotony a bit…but yeah…even I’ll admit it sounds a bit strange to hear The Gangsta Rabbi coming off sounding less interested or enthusiastic about the music he’s making. At the length of these records…editing wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea…a few of these tunes that don’t represent him as strongly as the others could go and he’d still come out with an enormous album I’m sure…or find others to replace the spaces.
“3 Little Puppies” attempts for more melody…which is often thwarted by the mangal vadya – that’s just an awkward and tough fit into any sound, let’s face it…but when it doesn’t quite climb to the scale of its intended notes and ambition – it’s also the first thing that the ears can hear. Not only that…but you can hear that the very nature of this instrument is a hard one to harness and control to get those perfect tones to come out…I appreciate The Gangsta Rabbi reaching out for a unique sound to add in – I just don’t think it’s the one that’s going to work for the people out there. Never forget – I’m just an average, ordinary guy that listens to music at the end of the day…I could be completely off-base as far as your own personal-taste in music goes…always be sure to listen and come to your own conclusions! I like the ideas he’s got in “3 Little Puppies” more than I do most…it still needs a bit of a re-working in my opinion, but there is strength in the ideas themselves.
Whereas “Yada Yada Ya Ya” is completely designed to be as relentlessly in your entire face as a song can get. Sorry Rabbi…I can’t get behind you on this one personally…I’ve never been too much of a fan of ‘la las’ ‘oooos’ ‘yeahs’ or counting in music…and I’m gonna have to add ‘yadas’ and ‘gagas’ to that list just to be safe I think. On the other hand of course – because of the chanting lyrics being mapped out right there for you in the title…you can hear the ‘words’ a lot more easy in this one. Truthfully…it’s just a bit more playful than I dig listening to – that’s really my main objection and it’s a personal one; the reality is that the sound of “Yada Yada Ya Ya” does hit the mark of its punk intention and is also more accessible than many of the tunes on this album due to the simplicity in the lyrics and hook being so identifiable.
“Die Like A Maccabee” has a higher degree of accessibility as well…or at least…it did…I mean…it DOES…at points…you get what I mean, it’s The Gangsta Rabbi we’re talking about here… By far one of the most scattered ideas in terms of its overall structure – I also ended up feeling like this was one of the most entertaining tunes as a result. There is weirdness like…everywhere…there’s times where I was sure there was a beat or something weird out of time or out of place – BUT…as a whole…”Die Like A Maccabee” attempts a lot more ideas and proves to be more ambitious than many of the tracks on The King Of Jewish Punk #30 & #68. I felt like it was a tune that might have even deserved to be a little closer to the end…to help establish a memorable ending in all this chaos & musical-mayhem…I felt like it was more memorable than “Crank That Kosher Boy” to follow. I stand by my earlier comments on the mangal vadya – though oddly I think without it, “Crank That Kosher Boy” would have potentially suffered more; even though the tones aren’t always 100% on here – the melody also exists due to its inclusion. Tough balance on this one…that pesky instrument becomes a necessary part of this particular track but I still think there’s potentially a better suited choice as a sound to fit into the music overall. When it’s mixed lower into the music as it is on the final track “Wish You Were Here” at the song’s beginning…it’s not too bad…but I don’t know that I’d ever call it an inviting or welcoming sound.
And I get it…punk music of any kind isn’t exactly supposed to be inviting or welcoming…and if we’re judging The Gangsta Rabbi on that, he’s nailing it. He makes music that is tough to love…but I do appreciate his passion when it’s there on full-display as it most often is. “Wish You Were Here” ends this latest offering from The Gangsta Rabbi on one of the record’s most memorable performances in terms of focus…and I dig the guitars he’s put into this tune for the most-part. There will only ever be ONE version of The Gangsta Rabbi…and regardless of what you think, good or bad – to have that kind of unique and identifiable sound is still a rarity and still an achievement…and for that, I commend this guy.
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