Rav Shmuel – Protocols

By Matthue Roth
Rav Shmuel, according to his website, is a rabbi who drinks beer and listens to the Grateful Dead.

For those on the outside, such a thing might be remarkable and even miraculous. But for those of us who have several people on our speed-dial fitting that description, Rav Shmuel isn’t a novelty—he’s just another Hasidic dude with a guitar. And, coming from an ethnic group who blogs about Matisyahu sightings as much as we blog about Yiddish jokes, that isn’t saying much.

The big surprise is, though, that Rav actually sounds good. The first track, “Dumb World,” is a torrent of clever-rhyming,
stream-of-conscious lyrical outburst delivered in a frantic New York breathlessness. If some of the rhymes don’t make sense, and some are forced, well, Rav gets extra credit for his passionate delivery and for the lines that we catch through the torrent, some of which are both piercing and insightful and hilarious at once.

Above all, Rav Shmuel proves the paradigm that you don’t need to “write Jewish” to hit a Jewish audience. I mean, he’s a rabbi and he’s writing love songs and existential questioning songs and snarky social-commentary songs—if some of it comes off as trite, it doesn’t at all take away from his passion, and, in fact, songs like “I Am Oxygen” and “Social Suicide” end up sounding kind of sweet.

Rav Shmuel’s strongest suit, though, is when he’s being honest and tongue-in-cheek and effortlessly funny, like on “Dumb World” and the title track, “Protocols,” in which Rav reveals himself to be a member of the Conspiracy of Zion: “Will you please keep my secret I pray/Cause I’m undercover as a singer-songwriter right here at the Sidewalk Cafe.” It’s ballsy and kitschy, silly and smart—it’s vintage Rav Shmuel.


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