Never Give Up!
by Matthue Roth
Now, the checkerboard case, anthemic title, and dudes-in-black-and-white-suits illustration on the front might make you suspect that you’re about to enjoy a ska album, but don’t be fooled: Simply Tsfat are not only better than ska—their violinist can take on an entire horn section any day of the week—but also, this album transcends simple genres. Any way you slice it, this is grand music, inviting exuberance and hyperbole…so you’re just going to have to bear with me.
Simply Tsfat are the John Denver of the Jewish music world. Their music is simple, clear, like the clean high-altitude air of the mountain town that is their namesake, full of hearkening to a simpler time and a more pure, undiluted mentality—and yet, with an undeniable acoustic pop sensibility that you can always get down with. The multiple-guitar intro of the title song rocks, not just because isn’t the same notes strummed over and over but because it’s actually innovative, jumping from classical to pop sensibilities and then back again. The lyrics drop in, extolling the ecstasy of Rebbe Nachman’s exultation that we should never despair in rhyming verse, and you know we’re in for a good ride.
Halfway through the song, the traditional folk-song structure gives way to a whole chorus, and then the chorus gives way to drums and hand-percussion and spoons, and I’m thinking, WTF? Two breakdowns—first, a niggun breakdown, and then a percussion breakdown? They are treating us way too well.
Over the ensuing twelve tracks, we get choral singing, dance nigguns, and the violin-and-guitar jams that Simply Tsfat is famous for. It’s occasionally punctuated by folk songs, with lyrics that are almost as cheesy as they are charming, and one or two instances of slightly off-putting little-boy choirs singing the chorus. Don’t let that deter you: Never Give Up! is a great album. Whether you’re an antifolk hipster or so Orthodox, you don’t even know what antifolk is, you need this in your collection.