Saturday, November 27, 2010

Review "Little Taste of Torah" Peter & Ellen Allard

Peter and Ellen Allard are masters of music for young children. This is a CD for both young and old, and it has solid roots in their personal Jewish journey. I sometimes get nervous when I hear that people whose music I like, are trying something new. You never know if they will build upon their strengths, or discard all of what we love about them as they choose to embrace their new passion and reinvent themselves.

As I heard the opening bars of this CD though, I sighed with relief, grinned, and quietly thanked Peter and Ellen Allard for producing an album that exposes their songwriting genius brilliantly in music that both children and adults will be humming all week long. It mirrors the Allard's closer embrace of Torah and things Jewish, while it builds upon their genius with kids music. Peter and Ellen combine their increasing personal Jewish passion, writing for a more sophisticated audience while still keeping their roots firmly planted in kid-friendly music. It was a huge risk, blending the three; lots of variables on the table. I think that it was astonishingly successful!

This CD also has that elevated standing and cohesiveness that I call an "Album" (with a capital "A"). "Little Taste of Torah" is not merely a collection of songs, with one or two shining stars. It is a constellation, a complete experience, deliciously packaged, with a full lyrics sheet, liner notes and almost 50 minutes (14 songs) of joyous music that is crisply produced. It moves away from their previously folk-oriented style into the realm of easy-listening rock, perfectly suited to a broader audience. I was delighted to hear more of Peter's vocals front and center. From beginning to end it shows off the diverse and seasoned songwriting of the Allards, and begs for another listen.

Confession. I'm old enough to have waited in line to get my hands on Sgt. Pepper, or Tommy or the Beatle's White Album, and I remember reserving an afternoon to become friends with the music, to listen with the lyrics, and to drink in the experience without distraction. I recommend that you do the same with the Allard's CD. The chorus hooks and tasty rhythms will quickly speak to the child in you, and each melody will stir your senses with the rich production and diverse but universally engaging styles. Each subsequent listen will transform these songs from an acquaintance into a close friend, revealing nuances and depth not initially apparent.

When listening, I first thought, "what a wonderful treat and surprise". Then, I stepped back and realized, "of course this music would be great". If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that Peter and Ellen would be able to create music that sneaks into our soul. They have mastered the art of songwriting and performing with young children, and I would submit that kids have a sixth sense for revealing anything disingenuous or formulaic. The Allards shoot from the hip and shoot for the heart, bringing their sensitivity, vibrant spirit and energy into this music, delivering it directly to the child in you. It is music that engages, comforts and nourishes; it soothes, invites you to move your arms and your body, and surrounds you with warm genuine laughter, love and a joy of being Jewish.

The CD opens with "Trees", a catchy melody that draws together an appreciation of nature, consciousness for green, and the option to engage and participate with the lyrics by waving your arm "branches" and "standing up for trees". On whatever level you get involved, this is fun, happy, positive music.

"Baby Moses in a Basket" sound like a kid's song title that I would easily pass over, but it pleasantly surprised me with a tight blues arrangement, contagious chorus hook, and a taste of the interesting phrasing and syncopated lyrics that raise the Allards songwriting out of the nursery and into the mainstream of Contemporary Jewish music. Peter is a brilliant guitarist, Ellen and Peter create rich, almost effortless harmony, and their collective songwriting brings the melodic and rhythmic complexity of Jason Mraz or Dave Matthews to fun, Jewish-themed new music.

There is a certain lulling, hypnotic lure to the rhythm of the nursery rhymes and lullabies of our childhood, that trigger reflexive calm from deep within us. From their work with early childhood music, the Allards have perfected the art of not only recreating and bottling this magic, but also tune-smithing new music that evokes the same spirit in us. It is a potent cocktail, blended perfectly by Peter and Ellen, to engage and indulge the senses. (Always drink responsibly!)

Compared to the Allard's previous releases, aimed at young children, and with a "classroom" feel to the recordings, this CD is impeccably produced (Steve Brodsky) and recorded (Scott Leader) in the studio to sit comfortably on your iPod beside ColdPlay and your favorite secular artist, without apology. "Little Taste of Torah" is not a kid's CD that parents will endure in the car, but rather music that will resonate with the whole family. I think that is a feat of genius.

There is one missing element on this CD. You really need to see Peter and Ellen in person to let them engage you physically with their music. Ellen brings a unique and contagious theatrical and dance presence to their performance that draws everyone out of their seat, up on their feet and moving to the music. Don't miss them in person! Here is a listing of their schedule.

Shir Hamakom, our Jewish music worship chavurah in CT is excited to have Peter and Ellen join us on December 10th, 2010. More details.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Arnie - thank you for leaving this beautiful review of our CD. We are honored and blessed to have you as a friend!