I’ve been singing “Avinu” for days. As a rule, I don’t sing or even hum prayers unless I’m in temple.
But RebbeSoul’s “Change the World with a Sound,” with its version of “Avinu,” has been playing nonstop for the past two days and is on continuous repeat track in my mind. Surprising, as it had been sitting, still sealed, at the top of my “to be reviewed” stack for more months than I care to count. But once opened, this throbbing, magical mystical tour of prayer and song is absolutely impossible to stop listening to, and I push the play button again
But after visiting RebbeSoul’s Web site, it’s easy to see that I’m not the only one both haunted and enchanted by his take on the High Holy Day prayer. RebbeSoul, the stage name of a one-time jazz and rock musician named Bruce Burger, introduced the world to the sounds of “Avinu” after recording an acoustic version of it in his living room. San Francisco’s KKSF played it to rave reviews — a record number of phone calls of praise.
Four albums later, RebbeSoul includes a version of “Avinu” on every recording. On “Change the World with a Sound” he adds words for the first time.
What is it about this prayer that drives RebbeSoul to record it again and again? And for each new listener to be struck as if hearing music itself for the very first time?
Perhaps it is best explained on track 11 — “Reincarnation of a Melody,” recorded by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and written by I.L. Peretz. Schachter-Shalomi, accompanied by a flute, reads:
“Every object has its own sound … a stone makes a sound as it strikes another stone … what a variety in the tones of the forest … but tones alone do now however make a melody … tones are the body of the melody but the soul is lacking … everything a person feels can be embodied in the melody and the melody lives … a melody lives. A melody dies. A melody is forgotten. A melody can however experience resurrection … it lives almost as a new melody … a reincarnation of the melody.”
Listening to “Reincarnation of a Melody” is like breathing primal life force into something old and familiar and resurrecting it as something new.
Los Angeles’ Prophet X rapping “Tzamah L’Cha Nafshi” — attributed to King David — and played to a Lubavitch melody is mesmerizing. It captures the voices of Jews around the world — even the Kotel in Jerusalem — saying Kaddish, layered over drums and electronic sounds.
His “Rock of Ages” is sprightly, lovely. Reminiscent of the Indigo Girls. Of Jewish camp and youth group. Like grown-up macaroni and cheese. “Eliyahu,” with the vocals of Lynn Rose, is downright danceable.
A dozen songs in Hebrew, in Arabic, in English. A mélange of spoken word, techno-funk mixes, acoustic guitar, bells, the violin. All of these otherwise contradictory sounds work together to form the tapestry that is “Change the World with a Sound.”
Think Moroccan restauran meets world beat dance club rave ’til dawn meets the holy of holies. Think Ravi Shankar meets the Beastie Boys meets the Chemical Brothers.
On the liner notes of “Change the World with a Sound,” RebbeSoul writes: “While the Baal Shem was praying, he climbed a ladder of prayer reaching a place where he saw a golden bird, whose lovely song would bring tranquility to all who heard it. He knew that if its song were brought to the physical world it would surely bring peace and change the world with a sound.”
“Shalom’s” fast-paced world beat features voices of men and women intoning again and again, “Why can’t it be now? Why can’t it be today? Shalom. Saalah.” Peace — in all its iterations.
It all makes me want to dance, makes me want to paste a bindi to my unadorned forehead, makes me want to go to synagogue and sing and hum these melodies I know so well with a community I’ve forgotten. It makes me want to change the world.
It’s a start.
“Change the World with a Sound” by RebbeSoul. 33rd Street Records. $12.97.