Voice Over| March 21, 2023
Baruch Levine, fresh off his latest collaboration with producer Doni Gross of his newly-released solo album Lev Chodosh
“Doni tends to work backward, but maybe his way is the new forward,” says BARUCH LEVINE, fresh off his latest collaboration with producer DONI GROSS of his newly-released solo album LEV CHODOSH. What he means is that while the usual sequence is to write an arrangement for each song track and then record the vocals over them, Doni is happy to record the vocals first and then build an arrangement around the singer, adding first a little piano and guitar, then strings and beat. He creates multiple electronic demos of possible music for each song, then selects the one he feels hits the spot.
“To me, the singing is not just a piece in the puzzle, but the soul of the song. I start with it, and work around it to create the best possible setting,” Doni explains, noting how this takes full advantage of the flexibility of new technologies. “Now that every musician records his part separately in his own home or studio, no arrangement has to be set in stone.” Sometimes, after having recorded a version of the song, he’ll decide that the demo was actually more impactful than the new recording. Maybe the scale needs to be changed a little up or down? Modulated to sound more mellow? He’ll play with it again, not shying away from rerecording when necessary.
For Lev Chodosh, since Baruch is both the composer and the singer, even the songs themselves were subject to change. “The songs were composed from ten years to ten minutes before the album was recorded,” he says. For example, the refrain of “Zeh Hakatan” was improvised and added to the song right in the recording studio, and for “Yihiyu Leratzon,” Baruch had written the high part years ago, but the decision to add a touch of English to take it up a notch was a last-minute stroke of inspiration.
For this album, Doni and Baruch used a small group chat to run the songs and their various versions by others. Baruch stresses that the best listeners are not necessarily musical people, but just “regular” music fans who can pick out whether a song moves them or talks to them. “Once you put a song out there, it’s very hard to get honest feedback because people know you’ve invested and tell you they like it. But before a release, you can get the truth, and we were absolutely open to taking opinions into account.”
Doni says that his biggest challenge on this project was to give the album diversity, flavor, and depth. “When a singer selects songs from different composers, variety is a given. In this case, with Baruch as the composer of all his material, it was harder to achieve it. But he outdid himself creatively. We also gave each song color and diversity through collaborations with Shmueli Ungar, Eitan Katz, and the Shir V’Shevach Boys Choir. Yisroel Lamm wrote string arrangements and intros for two of the songs, and you can sense his expert touch. On “Zeh Hakatan,” you can hear that the arrangement has some of the energy of Shmueli’s own dance hits. “Moshcheini” was originally played faster, but when Eitan came in and sat down to play it on his guitar, he naturally slowed it down, and we went along with that.”
Although he’s a veteran on the scene, Baruch Levine says that the fierce competition and sheer volume of Jewish music produced today makes it imperative that every song is impactful. “I may have the advantage of name recognition, but unless the music really grabs them, people will listen once and move on.”
His recent Off the Record nostalgia series has been said to have brought generational peace to many homes, because both parents and kids can agree to play it. “Doni,” says Baruch, “is a master of making the very same neshamah music we sang years back appealing to the younger generation.”
It’s a distracted generation, where singles are in, and full solo albums are an expensive venture. “We don’t even play albums from beginning to end anymore,” says Doni. “Even in the car, the playlists are just on shuffle, yet every artist arranges his album with intent. Our final song, ‘Ashrei Ayin,’ breaks the mold a little, and we chose to close with it because it leaves you with a lingering air of longing for our return home.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 954)
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