Schwebel’s Hearts Mind
“He’s a big man with a big voice. And with his debut solo CD, “Hearts Mind,” Eli Schwebel has got himself a big hit.
Known for his four albums with the group Lev Tahor, Schwebel has performed at Lincoln Center, Town Hall, and The Jerusalem Theater.
Schwebel pumps out memorable original tracks here with the assistance of skilled co-writers. “We Are One” is a powerful anthem that gives hope to those who might feel ostracized. Written with Dov Rosneblatt and Eli Ganz, the song evokes the image of an Olympic runner caught in a pack but inspired to keep going.
On “Aibishter,” a song with a soulful appeal to God, Schwebel’s vocals soar. “Yagga” (with co-writers Gadi Fuchs and Zach Salsberg) is the best song on the album because of its catchiness, guided by the staccato delivery of the English verse, followed by a bombastic and enveloping chorus. (Literally meaning “Work Hard,” the song is about finding your passion in life. It’d be a nice listen while you’re sprinting to knock out your nemesis, or work out).
While “Shabbos Takes Me Home” could have benefited from a faster chorus, we get the speed we need with the coolest track, “Shtai Auf!” It transports you to a saloon in New Orleans when the sheriff might walk in. A song about convincing yourself to wake up and get out of bed, it’s no sleeper. “Ani Yosef” which relates the dramatic moment where Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers, is the most emotionally complex song here and a tribute to Schwebel’s grandfather Joseph Wassner.
Schwebel shows off his vocal dexterity, seamlessly traversing from a booming knock-down-the-house power to an angelic softness that a father might use to soothe his child’s fears after a nightmare.
In an interview in his apartment on the Upper West Side, the 34-year-old said it was great to perform in a group but he was excited to express his vision as a solo artist.
“A main message of this album is to look within yourself,” he said. “It’s very hard to look at yourself in the mirror and look at your life. People shy away from conflict. They’d rather not deal with it. This is meant to give people chizzuk (strength) to look at themselves and see if they have a passion they haven’t tapped into. It’s never too late.”
For Schwebel, music was his passion from an early age and he relearned to sing from his father and grandfather, Rabbi Aaron Schwebel.
“Music was like food in my house,” he said. “You had to eat. You had to sing. It was part of the daily regimen. I stayed up till three in the morning playing piano and that was normal.”
What isn’t normal, Schwebel says, is that he recorded John Mayer-drummer Nir Zidkyahu, and Lenny Kravitz-guitarist Jack Daley, for the album, but wound up using neither of their recordings.
“I had to scratch it,” he said. “It didn’t have the right feel.”
Schwebel said he owes a great deal to Assaf Spector, whom he was connected to by Shemspeed head Erez Safar. Spector served as a musical mentor, recorded and mixed the album and played many of the instruments, he said.
Schwebel worked on “Hearts Mind” for more than six years. Prior to that he wasn’t ready to say what he needed to say.
“I was scared to express myself and I wasn’t totally comfortable with what I was feeling,” he said. “You could say it was sort of a delayed adolescence. But I realized that that I wanted to transmit a message that it’s ok to ask for help. It’s empowering to discover who you are and delve into your identity. Unless you discover who you are, life can be an endless pit of selfishness. There’s a plan in creation. You can step back and figure it out.”
Explaining the title of the album, he said the heart has its own way of thinking, a sort of emotional intelligence. He credits his grandfathers for being inspirational and he dedicated the album to both of them, who passed away in the last year. Pointing out a picture of his grandfather Rabbi Aaron Schwebel, which he keeps in his tefillin bag, he said he’s learned a lot.
“My grandfather didn’t just teach me lessons,” Schwebel said. “He was a lesson. He never had an evil thought. Being in his presence, I learned a lot. I’d say the biggest thing is there are too many labels and too may boxes people put on each other. Instead of talking about what’s wrong with the world, people should think about what they can do. People are always trying to be right. Instead they should try to be good.”
Schwebel’s voice towers above most Jewish singers’. And while some have muddled messages, his rings out crystal clear.”