by Matt Wetstein
2306959_1230b60cb1.jpgA good album takes you somewhere you’ve never been before. A great album takes you somewhere that you didn’t even imagine was possible: a place that can be so unfamiliar, or anachronistic, or so offputting that it shakes you out of your limited worldview. When my friend Erez first played me a snippet of The Freeman’s album, “Baba and the Bib”, I had that very reaction. And when I finally heard the whole album, I was taken to another world. It was a world where the Brittish Invasion never happened, and Elvis was a washup…a world, where Rock took its hold in Chassidic Brooklyn, in the Lubavitch heart of Crown Heights. The “Man in Black” wasn’t Johnney Cash, but the Lubuvitcher Rebbe. And, the number one single of all times was a catchy little tune called “5759 Uh Huh!”. Forget “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. These pioneers of rock in this world don’t even touch women outside of marraige. Instead the lyrical content of their pop music reflects messianic dreams, disillusion with American materialism, and the eternal holiness of Israel. It’s difficult to imagine a world where rock could take such form, but as I made my way through the strange landscape of the album, I was forced to concieve of it.

“Baba and the Bib” has all of the elements of good indie-rock. It’s low-fi. It’s a pastiche of different musical styles, woven together with masterful sense of collage. It’s retro. And most importantly, its lyrics are so witty and playful as to almost sound ironic. Sincerely religious folk often have a difficult time writing lyrics that don’t come off sounding trite and naive. But, The Freemans pull it off. Clearly and unapologetically religious, they don’t take themselves too seriously. The centerpiece of the album is ” 5759, Uh Huh!”. The title alone is amazing. The tune, reminiscent of Hindrix’s song-writing sans the guitar solos, is a sarcastic commentary on how 1999 (the Gregorian counterpart to the Jewish year 5759) has no significance to an observant Jew. All of America’s millenial anxieties and excitement are irrelevant to a person for whom it’s just another year in a much older calendar. Just a teaser on the lyrics:

“Someone asked for my opinion so I asked him for the time;

He say’s I think we’re holding somewhere in 1999,

I said look in to the Bible, the Old testament you’ll find…

It’s 5759, Uh Huh!”

and verse 2:

“Doesn’t it make ya’ wonder huh, doesn’t it bend your mind?

Where would they count down from in ancient Roman times?

Luckily the sages were ahead of all mankind, and its..

5759, Uh Huh!”

The songs as a whole cover a vast swaft of the Hassidic worldview. Anyone whose spent some time with Chabadnicks (the branch of Hassidism to which the Freeman’s belong) will be impressed with it’s breadth. Songs include “Leviason VS Shor Habor” about the prophesized end-of-days battle between a gigantic uber ox (the Behemoth) and sea monster (the Leviathan) that the righteous will get to watch like a sporting event. There’s a Beatlesque song called “Yud Tes Kislev”, about the Lubavitch holiday celebrating the release of their first Rebbe from a Czarist prison. And, “Vos ist Dos” is a playful yiddish swing chart about the Messiah.

I would be doing a disservice to the Freeman’s if I failed to mention they were a family band…an honest to goodness, all ages, family band. Imagine the Partrige Family but with beards and black hats. The two lead singers are the other strong suit in the album. Again, with a perhaps accidental indie angle, they’re voices have an unpolished and quirky edge to them. The main singer of the family, featured on “Leviason VS Shor Habor” sings with a unique staccato phrasing I’ve never heard before. The younger children in the band offer fantastic color in the background of the songs, answering in the background vocals, or in unison with everyone. The only weakness to the album is perhaps that a few of the songs that focus on the younger ones seem little bit juvenille, although still interesting in their own right. The best use of the youngest Freemans is the song “One Stone”, which is also their most political. Its intense lyrics like:

“Seventy wolves surround me, now,

They won’t let me rest,

In the name of peace they’re tearing pieces away from my flesh.”

are offputting, coming from the soft voice of the youngest Freeman.

If you’ve never heard of the Freeman’s, you’re not alone. After becoming one of their die-hard fans, I’ve felt alone in my fandom. But, hopefully if others catch on to the contagious “Baba and the Bib”, I’ll have some more folks to chat with!


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