Rob Tobias & Friends,
(Maximo, 2000)

I was on my way to Friends Meeting, and I loaded Rob Tobias's Sparks into my CD player because it was next in line for review. I didn't know quite what to expect, but I hoped it would be something that would be interesting and that would put me in the right frame of mind for an hour of silent worship. I was happily satisfied on both counts.

Tobias combines a variety of folk styles into his songs which center around Jewish holidays and traditions, but you certainly don't have to be Jewish to appreciate the music. The overarching universal themes of freedom, peace and harmony resonate in the listener regardless of faith. The songs are upbeat and spirited -- in more ways than one -- with lyrics, melodies and harmonies that beg you to sing along.

In addition to lead vocals, Tobias plays acoustic guitar, keyboard, percussion and harmonica. He's backed by Rich Glauber on a host of instruments, Bibs Goff on drums, and other very talented musicians.

The first track, "Because There Were Miracles," could apply to the traditional winter new year or to Rosh Hashanah; it's a song about new beginnings, about shedding the old and negative. Tobias's warm-timbred voice is inspirational. "Avinu Malkein," inspired by the traditional Yom Kippur song of the same name, explores the nature of the Spirit and reveres its all-encompassing magnitude. Judith Levine-Friedman provides breathtaking background vocals.

The title track "Sparks" reflects on the end of shabbos but also on the past and its heritage as well as what we bring about for our respective futures. It's a rich, lush song enhanced by the trilling of a mandolin and those wonderful harmonies.

All of the songs are well-written and performed, but I think my favorite is "Walk the Bagel," a reflection of Tobias's "Life is a bagel" philosophy, and it's deliciously ticklish. At one point, Tobias proposes that the rain of manna from Heaven was actually a kind of bagel barrage because after all, it was "holy bread."

From the Caribbean-flavored "Ad Lo Yada," a happy and silly get on your feet and move song to the tender "I Forgot to Pray Today," written in memory of his niece Naomi Boone, from the work song style of "Brick by Brick" to the lovely, wordless "Niggun #2," Tobias's music is immediately accessible, warm, witty and wise.

I look forward to sharing this CD with my whole family, and I think it would be an excellent idea for you to set off some Sparks of your own.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 29 September 2001

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