Stereophonics Rebooted as Idelsohn Society

You remember Reboot, right? They’re the five-year-old organization “committed to creating opportunities for our peers to gather, to engage, to question and to self-organize with their own networks, in their own way, in their own time.” While I will admit to being suspicious of their summits – as I am of most gatherings of Jews in fancy places to think about nothing in particular – I will equally admit to being enamored with their quarterly journal Guilt & Pleasure and especially with their record label, Reboot Stereophonics.

The label, devoted to reissuing obscure musical evidence of American Jews’ experimentation with the melting pot, launched with Irving Field’s not-at-kitchy-as-it-sounds Bagels and Bongos. At the time, I was working for my local Jewish newspaper and had the opportunity to interview both Fields and Stereophonics’ co-founder, Roger Bennett. I practically begged Bennett to give a second life to my favorite out-of-print album, The Barry Sisters Sing Fiddler on the Roof. (At some other point, I promise to wax rhapsodic about the album, especially its bongo-driven take on “Far From The Home I Love,” but I digress.)

So far, that release hasn’t happened, but today my inbox lit up with the news that the label has renamed itself, and the first release under the new name is the Sisters’ final effort, Our Way. The Barry Sisters: Our WayI haven’t heard the entire album yet, but a couple of years ago a friend e-mailed me some MP3s of the duo’s Yiddish-language takes on such hits as “Cabaret” and “My Way,” and let me tell you, they are not to be missed. Now, will this fulfill Reboot’s hope that Jews of our generation will be spurred to explore and discuss the interaction of Judaism and American culture? Unclear. But whether you end up discussing the relationship between singing pop hits in Yiddish to singing tefillot to pop melodies or starting a dissertation on the epistemology of cover songs or simply humming along to some excellent performances of timeless songs, I don’t think that’s such a problem.

And what of the name change? According to the e-mail,

Our project is named in honor of Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, the godfather of Jewish musicology. Idelsohn devoted his life to studying, gathering, and classifying Jewish music in all of its forms in order to better understand the very nature of Jewishness itself, much in the same spirit as American folklorist Alan Lomax who used the collection of music as a means of understanding national culture and tradition. Idelsohn penned the ten volume Thesaurus of Hebrew and Oriental Melodies and is responsible for writing the lyrics to “Hava Nagila,” a Chassidic nigunim that he helped transform into the unofficial anthem of international Jewry.

It looks like they haven’t finalized the transformation yet, with the main Reboot website offering no sign of Idelsohn whatsoever, but there is a new wiki at The new site is a little bit more of a work-in-progress than I would like to see at a site’s launch, but shows promise if all those wonderful people out there in internetland do what the nice people want and fill in the blanks. (And I’ve got to admit, seeing all those incomplete entries nearly sent me into an orgy of picture and information gathering before I remembered I have a day job. And a second job, for that matter. But this may spur some of the conversations around the music that Bennett et al hope to foster.)

Post-Script #1 – Idelsohn Society mavens Bennett and Josh Kun are also releasing a book of Jewish History through LP Covers that looks promising: And You Shall Know Us By The Trail Of Our Vinyl.

Post-Script #2 – The Barry Sisters seem to be experiencing a mini-revival at the moment, with several of their other albums making their CD debuts courtesy of Collectors’ Choice Music. Alas, still no Fiddler.

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