Neshama Carlebach

Dancing With My Soul

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She may not be the type of artist traditionally referred to as a soul singer -- she betrays nary an R&B or blues root -- but the description certainly fits Neshama Carlebach. ("Neshama," in fact, means "soul" in Hebrew.) Or rather, her second album gives you the feeling that she will eventually earn said classification. Following the death of her father, the great spiritual troubadour rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, composer of more than 500 Jewish religious songs of celebration and spirit, the classically trained singer dropped her own university studies and picked up the musical legacy of her father. She saw to it that their album of duets, HaNeshama Shel Shlomo, saw posthumous release, and then recorded a debut album, Neshama-Soul, that served as a tribute to the rabbi. Its follow-up is still a tribute of sorts, with the inclusion of six previously unrecorded songs of her father's, but it also gives Carlebach an opportunity to develop her own individual voice and work out some of the issues surrounding her own life. ("Burdened" might give one general insight into her psyche, although specifically it revolves around a relationship.) More than half of the album is given over to her own compositions, some of them written with her collaborator, the jazz pianist David Morgan. Unlike those of her father, Carlebach's songs are written in English, eschew Hebraic-style melodies for a glossier adult alternative mood, and are less explicitly worshipful. It is not yet a seamless mix. Carlebach still seems to be finding her muse -- her songs are often lovely, at least in moments, but just as often fail to sustain themselves. Her take on her father's songs, on the other hand, is dynamic and bold, and she sounds liberated performing them. The rabbi's songwriting has a distinctiveness that his daughter's writing hasn't developed fully yet. Her music could frequently be mistaken for middle-of-the-road pop, with bits of jazz, singer/songwriter, and folk revealing themselves at times. Her lyrics, too, are only vaguely religious, personal reflections so ambiguous that they could just as easily apply to her romantic relationships. Where her songs seem to have an abundance of spiritual yearning, her father's songs are simply spiritual, and that feeling pervades the music even if you cannot understand Hebrew. There are moments where she seems more emotionally invested in her father's songs than she is on her own material, and the difference comes across in the depth of palpable feeling. That does not impugn, however, the flashes of wonderful songcraft on the album, and the equally fine performances. Even half-formed, Carlebach's talent is always evident. She has a remarkable voice, pure and longing, and she already arrives at some alluring melodies, as on the title track and "Before You Go." There are also some fabulous musical moments, such as the churning, funky jazz break cooked up with electric piano, blues bass, and wah-wah guitar riffs in "Gam Ki Elech," as well as the bluegrass-like harmonies that open the song. Only on the atmospheric "Exclusion," a saucy rock-tinged gem, does she find a voice and sound all her own. But even with its flaws, there is a wealth of stirring and gorgeous music on Dancing With My Soul. Carlebach still gets caught beneath the shadow of her father, partly a result of her own desire to honor him and his music, and partly because his legacy and influence is simply so extensive, but there are also signs on the album of a rapidly emerging talent that will soon make albums that revel in their own light.

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