Jewish Music Group; 2006
In 1987, Roots frontman Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson were a three-piece street group, playing for spare change on a makeshift drum kit, a Casio keyboard, and no microphone. The trio was completed by Scott Storch, a white Jewish kid from Philly who went on to collaborate and ghost-write several of Dr. Dre’s latter-day compositions, including Kiss of Death, The Chronic 2001 and work on Eve’s debut Ruff Ryders’ First Lady.
It’s fundamentally ironic that the same genetic line to create Storch also spawned Debbie Friedman, an underground and independently-made songwriter who’s toured for several years without the support of a major label. From playing small synagogues and underground synagogues, she’s gone over the course of several albums to playing major-label synagogues and sold-out arena synagogues. Anyone who ever doubted Friedman’s ability to sell out will be pleasantly taken aback by her latest collection One People, whose title clearly alludes to D.C. funk-punk pioneers Q and Not U’s song “Wonderful People,” whose lyrics “The future’s always brighter/the building’s always lighter” are the spiritual grandfather to Friedman’s song “Sing Unto God” when she proclaims: “Sing a new song and rejoice/Cry out with joy from your heart.”
Unabashedly post-ironic in a way that shows due respect to her progenitors like Smog and the Postal Service (whose influence on songs like “We Return to You” is remarkable for similar guitar tunings and shimmery lullaby-like verse structure), Friedman combines the religious sensibilities of gospel and Tuvic throat chanting with an indie-pop-punk-bubblegum-malt-ball-infused upbeat songwriting sensibility to produce a collection of songs that manage to gain depth without being overtly preachy—much like a 7 a.m. Sunday morning gospel broadcast on a high-numbers A.M. radio station. Tell it, Debbie Friedman!
Kafkaesque but shiny, songs like “Sow in Tears, Reap in Joy” and a Doug Moensch-inspired “Sh’ma Ko-Lei-Nu” display a flexibility and turn of phrase that listeners can identify with, but feel alienated from, not unpleasantly. Clearly subversive lyrics like “God bless our country/and all who lead us” allude to the domestic dissention and the holes that creep through the net of mistrust and unease that have sprung up. The earnestness with which Friedman sings “God guard our borders/keep us safe and strong,” juxtaposed by the climax of the final verse “May we be free of hate and war/lay down your swords and shields/Nations will not fight again” markedly exfoliates Friedman’s keen sense of comedic timing and sharp-edged (pun intended) sense of poetic justice.
All in all, another masterful entry in the Debbie Friedman canon.