The worldwide musical collective consciousness that Napster and internet file sharing spurred into existence has been both a blessing and a curse. We have an access to musical and artistic variety that can only be described as absurd. Alternative hip-hop, cave music, mathcore–the sheer number of genres is staggering, let alone the kaleidoscope of bands themselves. This can lead to some entertaining, if not necessarily classically artistic, musical motifs. But a ska band playing their way through the Super Mario Brothers songbook has a five-play shelf life at best. And if I have to listen to one more pretentious hipster beg for shekels on Kickstarter to fund her all-ukulele Spice Girls cover band, I’m going to punch the internet in the face.
On the other hand, every now and then you stumble onto something that is just too great not to share.
Producer Guy Hajjaj has spent the past four years collaborating with fellow Israeli musicians in a musical effort that has culminated in Shirim Meshuhashim, a 22 track album of Tom Waits covers sung in Hebrew. My considerable soft spot for both Tom Waits and a certain Chosen People made this download the easiest decision to make since I ate two McRibs after seeing what they look like frozen. The album title translates to “Used Songs”, and while that is technically true, I can’t help but adore this new twist on a decidedly unbroken product.
Shirim Meshuhashim is a dancing, scowling, gutterstorm of a thing: able to maintain the hurdy-gurdy majesty of music’s Hobo King while making an attempt to outgrowl him. Which isn’t possible, of course. But the effort–the toe dipped into the cold water–comes away as both complimentary and complementary. This is not to suggest that it is without flaws. Tom Waits possesses the uncanny ability to howl like a demon that’s just stepped on a thumb tack when he needs to, and then shift into a moody, scratch-romantic tone for his ballads and love songs. Unfortunately, this is a tad beyond the abilities of Hajjaj’s Hebrew singers, whose naturally guttural dialect doesn’t quite carry the graveyard shift sentimentality of “Tom Traubert’s Blues” or “Grapefruit Moon”, even if I did love both of those tracks. However, stack those glottal pops with “Clap Hands” or “Big In Japan”, and you’ve got yourself something truly special.
I adore this album. Not just for the finished product, but for the sheer balls of the attempt. Guy Hajjaj has led his musicians in a massive album filled with the fruits that only grow in the soil of a labor of love. Shirim Meshuhashim is Peter Pan’s shadow: clearly created in the shape of someone’s preexisting body of work while somehow simultaneously tangoing merrily to its own drummer.
Shirim Meshuhashim is available here for a “name your price” donation.