Monday, April 09, 2007

Check it out!

Noah Budin. Metaphor.

It’s not often that one gets to witness firsthand an artist come into full flower. Those who have followed the performing and recording career of Noah Budin have experienced this growth and blossom over the decade since the first seeds were sown in his joyous debut CD, Hallelujah Land, in 1997. With the release of Metaphor this spring we hear an artist in full.

If all language about God is metaphorical, all of Metaphor is about God. Indeed, at their best, Budin’s songs sound like a deep correspondence between the divine and the ones imprinted with the divine image. Yet Budin manages this without ever sounding in any way traditionally “religious.” This is, indeed, music for those who are deeply spiritual without necessarily being religious.

The disc opens with the powerful percussion of “Metaphor.” The liner notes suggest that the title track emerged from a song-writing workshop whose participants were asked to develop metaphors for God, and the song weaves them together to powerful effect. But the more I listened to the song, the more I began to imagine it as a love letter from the creator to a creation that has forgotten how to recognize the divine in its midst. “I am that I am that I am and will be,” perhaps God sings to us, “but you are everything to me.”

If “Metaphor” is the creator singing to creation, the conversation continues in “Blessing,” a gentle prayer for grace to cover the generations as their circles dance to the divine music of creation. Full disclosure: I know several of the generations of the artist’s family including the spirit-filled youngest daughter who served, in part, as the spark for “Haruach.” That personal relationship has, if anything, left me a less patient listener longing for the fullness of the music to emerge from the promise of Hallelujah Land. It does so in the rich arrangements of Metaphor, and certainly in this song of spirit that highlights the keyboard work of Edward Ridley, Jr. and a fine sax riff from Norm Tischler.

Budin has surrounded himself with excellent musicians throughout this recording, and they are nowhere more evident than on “Let it Burn,” which must be the rockingest Hanukkah song ever recorded. I’ll confess, that as a Protestant pastor I don’t have a deep knowledge of the range of comparable holiday songs, but as one who grew up with the rock soundtrack of America in the 1970s, I promise you that Sam Getz’s screaming guitar more than holds its own while Budin’s voice rocks out strong and clear in a song that connects the candles with the fires of justice and promises to let it burn.

While many of the images used in the songs come directly from Budin’s Jewish roots, the music never falls into religious cliché. The beautifully turned “Reason to Believe” draws from a range of human relationships and natural wonders to trace the roots of faith: “It’s the lightning in the sky/your perfect smile your Godly eyes.”

The range of musical styles and influences is almost as wide as the range of faith influences. From the traditional folks roots of the raucous “Carry That Rock,” to the gospel sounds of “Take Me Back,” Metaphor displays a musical virtuosity rare in our genre-driven age. You may ask, “What’s a Jewish singer-songwriter doing joining voices with The Prayer Warriors on a gospel song?” Well, this is the same artist who introduced the world to accapella “Jew-wop” on Hallelujah Land, and under the production hand of his older brother, David, the various musical threads weave together seamlessly.

The disc closes with a final weave: the Jewish experience of slavery and exodus hope with the African-American experience. Borrowing from Rabbi Heschel’s memorable insistence that his “feet were praying” as he marched with Dr. King, the last track, “Every Step a Prayer,” reminds us that “it’s holy ground we walk upon/this journey that we share/in every breath, a miracle/and every step a prayer.”

While I leave the judgment of the miraculous to others, every breath of Metaphor is certainly a prayer, and the totality bears repeated listening.

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