I always viewed the Jewish childhood of my parents as distinct from mine in several ways, as they grew up in the late 1960s and early ’70s, I pictured my dad’s tales of his summer camps in the Catskills and my mom’s USY weekends draped in the culture of those decades, or at least as I understood it through the movies: long-haired guys, lots of acoustic guitars, girls in flower patterns, free-floating hippie dancing and loosely-harmonized songs on Shabbat.
Was I misguided? Maybe my parents’ Jewish childhood was just like mine, but without the Internet. “To the Seventh Sunset,” an album released under the name Sabbapath by Jewish record label JDub, seems to suggest I wasn’t too far off.
The album is a collection of familiar Friday night songs and prayers, like “Sim Shalom,” “Lecha Dodi” and even “The Shema,” recast as early ’70s folk songs — haunting melodies, slow-crawling bass, echoing vocals and gently strummed acoustic guitars.
And somehow, it works. These songs adapt well to their new settings, and “To the Seventh Sunset” is lighthearted, pretty and awfully campy fun.
Rob Markoff, a longtime indie rock musician, dreamed up the album when he stumbled upon an old vinyl record in a Brooklyn shop. It was called “Sing Out, It’s Shabbos,” supposedly a “folk rock Sabbath celebration by the young people of Temple Shaari Emeth, Englishtown, New Jersey,” according to the record sleeve. Feeling nostalgic, Markoff bought the LP. But it wasn’t quite what he had expected. So, he decided to make his own folk Shabbat album.
Markoff recorded on cassette to capture that low fidelity, ’70s sound, and employed friends to play harmonium, autoharp and even flute. With alternating slow and spirited chants and sound quality like a Shabbat morning group sing at Camp Ramah, “To the Seventh Sunset” is the perfect embodiment of what a 20-something like me might think his parents’ summer Shabbats sounded like.
And whether that’s true or not, the album is simply good — listening to it on a Thursday or Monday somehow doesn’t feel out of place.
Markoff’s take on “The Sabbath Bride (Lecha Dodi)” is light and bright, with tambourine and Simon and Garfunkel harmonies. “Barchu,” the album’s longest track at just over three minutes, is an almost psychedelic call and response song, sunbaked and lazy.
Ultimately, what makes Sabbapath work is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Markoff knows that the whole idea of a ’70s era folk rock Shabbat album is nostalgic at least, totally silly at most. And he embraces that. Shabbat services are fun again.
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)