CD ReviewsRaya Mehemna
Songs for a Brother Vol. 1
1982 Yitzchak Bitton
David Chai Productions
After Iíve visited the public library and when Iím finished scouring the internet, the next place I go for Jewish music is the Siegal College of Jewish Studies. On the second floor is a whole self of dusty, forgotten vinyl record albums. This is where I found Raya Mehemna, with its colorful cover of the band members depicted as ancient Jerusalem musicians.
I was sure I had uncovered some rare treasure no one had heard of before. But when I played it on the show, the phone calls started coming. One person said he played it all the time in yeshiva. Another said he needed to hear He Was a Holy Man. Still another said he used to jam with Yitzchak Bitton.
Released in 1982, the album has a late 1970ís hard rock jam band vibe. Lots of guitars with horns, keyboards and violins giving some tracks a Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat feel. Other tracks take on an exotic Sephardic/Moroccan sound. Others incorporate seventies wa wa guitars. For such a rock based album, itís interesting to see such chasidic/yeshivish musicians like 'Shea Mendlowitz', 'Shlomo Dachs' and 'Sruly Williger' in the liner notes.
Lead singer and drummer Yitzchak Bitton composed all of the songs. Born in Morocco, he gained attention formerly in France with Les Variations who opened up for Led Zeppelin, Bachman Turner Overdrive and others. Then came his awakening to his Jewish roots and along with Moshe "Philippe" Narboni, Steve Schwab, Michael Belinsky and Robert Levin, he formed Raya Mehemna. The "before" and "after" photos on the inside cover of the album depict Bitton and Narboni with long hair, tight leather pants and vests and then with long beards, payot and kippahs.
Lyrics are a mix of Hebrew and English. The most popular track it seems is the all-English He was a Holy Man, about the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement. Other songs are in memory of Bittonís brother and based on Jewish religious texts and songs.
This is apparently the only album Raya Mehemna ever recorded, however it was released in CD form this year.
Extra thanks goes out to Ann for getting check the album out of the library for me. I have extensive fines going back to 1999 which prevent me from checking out any material.
Copyright 2004 Jewish Community Radio