Rob Tobias & Friends,
Bagel Roots & Water Dogs
(Maximo, 1998)

Rob Tobias's earlier CD Bagel Roots and Water Dogs lays a solid foundation for his later album Sparks (Maximo Productions, 2000). The CD doesn't have the tight focus and subtle variety of Sparks, but the roots are there in the songs which speak of ordinary miracles.

The songs are generally in a contemporary folk style, although the Passover song "Raise It Up" has a boogie-woogie beat. Tobias has a penchant for topical songs: "Raise It Up" considers the slavery of the Israelites in a modern context. The lyrics are direct and either tell a story or get a point across -- sometimes both -- without being preachy or didactic. While the melodies are appealing, the words clearly take precedence.

"Sparkle In the Eye" is a song about carrying on in spite of doubt and how anything worthwhile is worth the effort: "It takes love to conquer hate / And it takes patience to learn to wait / And it takes endurance to pull the long run / You gotta care about the boy if you want him to put down the gun." Timeworn words, but true nonetheless.

"Salmon Boy" is based on a Haida cautionary folk tale about learning respect for the Earth and its creatures. According to the liner notes, the lyrics came out of a lyric writing session with 4th- and 5th-graders. "Piece of Soul," another song with an ecological theme, was written in protest of a proposed factory to be built in a fragile wetlands. The lyrics are heartfelt: "They want to cover the earth and turn our waters gray / If this is progress, I wish they'd go away."

Some of the songs were written for Purim plays: "Roots," "Draw Forth Water" and "Standing on Holy Ground." Tobias's "Walk the Bagel" appears here in its first incarnation. Other songs are more personal, such as "Silver Moon," a lovely memorial tribute to a neighbor and friend which touches on the magic of those special friendships when you are in synch with each other. "Get Into the Rhythm" is an edgier song, a shift in mood from the generally sunny tone of the rest of the CD. At the same time, it explores the rhythms in our lives, how they are always there and how they change.

Tobias and his friends are highly capable musicians, and the songs invite you to sing along; this is a worthwhile introduction to an accomplished and promising artist.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 17 November 2001