Recht’s Jewish Rock Radio hits new milestone

Tal Recht sings on stage with Rick Recht.

By Dan Durchholz, Special to the Jewish Light

In the last few months, Jewish Rock Radio, the St. Louis-based Internet radio station, achieved several notable milestones. For one thing, the station celebrated its first anniversary. Jewish Rock Radio, which can be accessed at http://jewishrockradio.com, was also recognized by Slingshot-an arbiter of innovation among Jewish nonprofits-as a member of the “Slingshot Class of 2011-2012, which is a list of 50 organizations “that work to ensure that Jewish life isn’t left behind as the world moves forward.”

The station plays a wide variety of contemporary Jewish rock music from the United States, Israel and beyond, but that’s not all that it does. Founder and executive director Rick Recht, a well-known recording and touring artist in his own right, points out that Jewish Rock Radio also features celebrity interviews, and, importantly, “youth engagement interviews, talking about cool and exciting ways they’re engaging in national and international Jewish programs.”

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That’s important, Recht says, “because in the Jewish world, there are literally hundreds of millions of dollars that have been put into creating youth engagement opportunities, and yet the vast majority of Jews don’t know about those opportunities. And what we’ve done is, we’ve created a communication channel here.”

In November, according to Recht, the station “clocked over 400,000 listening minutes, and over 12,000 people have downloaded our mobile app” for iPhone and Android devices. It can also be heard on iTunes radio and on numerous websites (such as JewishinStLouis.org) that have installed the station’s widget. Listeners are logging in, he says, from “Israel, Sweden, Africa, Canada, China-all over the world.”

Through his own work in the world of music, and now through Jewish Rock Radio, Recht says he’s come to recognize music as a “powerful vehicle for strengthening Jewish identity and connection.

“There are recent studies that say that music has the greatest impact in kids’ lives-greater than their family, moral values, religion or fashion,” he says. “When you hear that at first blush, it’s confusing. But, bottom line, it informs the people that we hang out with, it informs the places we go, the clothing we wear. It even informs the relationship we have with our loved ones. There is no vehicle that is more powerful than music. And that’s why Jewish Rock Radio is such a powerful opportunity for the Jewish world-to attract, inspire, educate and entertain.”

Last month, the Brothers Lazaroff were throwing what they called their “first annual Hanukkah Hullabaloo” (complete with latkes cooked on the side of the stage) at Off Broadway. Last week, they released “Eight Nights,” an album of music that mixes the traditional and the experimental, with spoken word performances of his own poetry by Rabbi James Stone Goodman.

The album, it turns out, grew out of the celebratory vibe created by the show, which also featured Will Soll’s Klezmer Conspiracy, Ben Kaplan and the Vaad and Rabbi Goodman. The Brothers took the entire crew into Red Pill Entertainment studio the following week to produce “Eight Nights”-it was recorded live, with no overdubs-and release it just in time for Hanukkah. It’s a fascinating and exhilarating piece of work, available as a digital download (and soon, a CD) from http://eightnights.bandcamp.com/. And better yet, it’s a charity effort. Proceeds benefit the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry. At press time, the album had already reportedly netted more than $4,000.

Perhaps the strangest curio of the season is a Christmas album-yes, a Christmas album-from John Zorn, the prolific-and Jewish-avant garde musician, Webster University alum, MacArthur “genius grant” recipient and record label owner, whose imprint, Tzadik, specializes in Jewish music. “A Dreamer’s Christmas” is an apparently un-ironic selection of easy-listening/exotica-styled Christmas classics such as “Winder Wonderland,” “Christmastime Is Here,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “The Christmas Song,” plus a couple of originals. Interestingly, Zorn arranged the songs, but does not actually perform on the album. Still, the disc is every bit as delightful as it is unlooked for by an artist whose stated purpose is pursuit of “radical Jewish culture.” In its own way, “A Dreamer’s Christmas” is pretty radical, all right.

What is going on with Matisyahu? Two weeks ago, he tweeted photos of himself shorn of his locks and beard, then explained on his website, “No more Chassidic reggae superstar.” Now comes word that at a performance at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg, he reportedly attacked a female photographer and broke some of her equipment. Matisyahu took to Twitter again the next day, apologizing and saying, “I totally snapped.” Clearly, something is up with the guy.

Finally, it’s time to reveal my picks for the best albums of the year. I don’t have the space to write about each of them, but I will say this about my No. 1, Ry Cooder’s “Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down”: Even though it was made before the Occupy Wall Street movement formed, it’s the one album I heard this year that addresses the real issues the country is facing right now. Songs include “No Banker Left Behind” and “Christmastime This Year” (a song not so much about Christmas, but about America’s misadventures overseas. It’s a terrific-and timely-listen. So here’s the list:

  • Ry Cooder, Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down (Nonesuch)
  • The Black Keys, El Camino (Nonesuch)
  • Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music)
  • The Decemberists, The King Is Dead (Capitol)
  • Low, C’mon (Sub Pop)
  • Das Racist, Relax (Red General Catalog)
  • Ballake Sissoko/Vincent Segal, Chamber Music (Six Degrees)
  • Wilco, The Whole Love (dBpm/Anti-)
  • Lykke Li, Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic)
  • The Roots, undun (Def Jam)