There’s nothing like the balm of music to soothe a troubled mind — and given the collective angst generated by the last few months, now is the perfect time to indulge in the sweet harmonies of escape.
If the music has a Jewish theme, well, it’s all the better as a Chanukah gift, whether your loved one is addicted to vinyl or only listens to songs online. Below, some music and related goodies that’ll bring a smile to any music-lover’s face.
Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker”
Canadian Jewish singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen — best known for his songs “Suzanne,” “Bird on a Wire” and “Hallelujah” — released his 14th studio album in October, just before his death. Cohen was 82 then, and his vocal style changed as he aged, but it was still a powerful instrument.
Unlike so many cringeworthy late-career entries from legendary performers (Sinatra and Elvis come to mind), Cohen’s last album is a stunner, full of rich, exquisite orchestration and haunting melodies.
In a recent New Yorker profile, Cohen, who died in November, professed himself ready to die, and indeed the songs on this new album delve into mortality and endings, sometimes from a very Jewish perspective. Yet the album, despite its title, isn’t dark. Rather, it feels filled with hope and love and longing. It would make for a knockout gift.
Bob Dylan, “No Direction Home: 10th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set”
If Leonard Cohen has an American analog, it’s probably Bob Dylan, though he once told Cohen that he considered himself a better writer than Cohen. The 2016 Nobel Prize committee apparently agreed, bestowing its prize for literature on Dylan — the first musician to receive such an honor.
Now, to celebrate the 10th-anniversary release of “No Direction Home,” Martin Scorsese’s critically praised documentary about Dylan, a box set is available for purchase for Dylan completists.
The box set includes two-disc Blu-Ray edition and two-disc DVD edition in a deluxe portfolio; three 8×10 lithographic photo prints; and a special edition Bob Dylan magazine featuring historical articles and photos. The Blu-Ray and DVD have an additional two-plus hours of never-before-seen footage, including classic Dylan performances and an unused promotional spot.
For those who don’t necessarily want all the mishegas — they just want to see the movie — it’s now available for viewing on iTunes for the first time. Either way, it’ll help explain that Nobel choice.
Drake, “More Life”
Here’s one for the young R&B and hip-hop fan in your life — a new project by Drake, the Canadian Jewish (on his mom’s side) heartthrob responsible for such earworms as “Hotline Bling.” The 30-year-old, who’s dating Pennsylvania native Taylor Swift, last released a full-length album, Views, in 2015.
His new project is reported to be a “playlist project” — at least that’s what Drake is calling it right now — with all original music, though details are scant and the release date is simply “sometime in December.”
So far, three songs from “More Life” have been made available on iTunes, with more to come, so the best gift in this case might be a late-December iTunes gift card.
“Beautiful,” The Carole King Musical
“So Far Away.” “You’ve Got a Friend.” “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman.” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” “I Feel the Earth Move.” “Up on the Roof.” It’s hard to list all of the blockbuster hits that singer-songwriter Carole King — born Carol Klein — wrote over the years, both for herself and for other groups.
The Broadway musical “Beautiful” chronicles King’s journey as the nice Jewish girl who begins her medical career in New York at 16 to the mature woman who transformed American music with her songs.
The “Beautiful” soundtrack won last year’s Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, and the show was nominated for seven Tony Awards. King herself has said the show is “effing awesome.” Treat the Brill Building fan in your life to a day trip to New York and two tickets to the show. $99 orchestra seats are available for select performances.
“Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity, and Power”
Speaking of Jewish songstresses, there’s no one who quite compares to Barbra Streisand — singer, writer, actor, director and activist.
The longtime Democrat, who’s married to actor James Brolin, recently told Australia’s “60 Minutes” she’d immigrate to that country or Canada if Trump won the presidency. Such statements tend to engender either rage or admiration among Streisand watchers, but there’s no question that the “Yentl” director is a fascinating personality.
Though she doesn’t have a new album out, a recent biography by Neil Gabler (author of An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood”) examines Streisand’s life through the prism of her Jewishness.
“No one is better equipped to ponder the Jewish origins of Streisand than Gabler,” said Jewish Journal’s Jonathan Kirsch of the trim bio, which was published by Yale University Press.
Liz Spikol writes for The Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. She can be reached at email@example.com.