This time of year drives me crazy. It’s not that I mind spending money on gifts, or that I hate gridlock, or can’t stand candy canes.
Songs get stuck in my head. If I hear a catchy tune, I’m bound to sing it over and over, semiconsciously whether or not I know the lyrics for days or weeks on end.
My December dilemma is that wherever I go, I hear Christmas tunes, which for all of their silliness, are usually pretty catchy. And when my mind wanders during this time of year, it tends to find itself stuck somewhere in a Christmas tune. I end up typing to the rhythm of "Jingle Bells," lulling myself to sleep with "Silent Night," and absentmindedly singing "Jingle Bell Rocks" to myself in shul.
Thanks to the iPod revolution, I no longer have to listen to the music of the outside world. But since it’s Chanukah time, I figured I should find some interesting Chanukah music to fill my ears and thoughts.
I was pretty excited about The LeeVees’ "Hanukkah Rocks" album as soon as I heard about it. The LeeVees, who are about to go on tour with the Barenakedladies, are the newest addition to the J-Dub label, which discovered chasidic reggae sensation Matisyahu. The boys at J-Dub, who published the album with Reprise Records, started pitching the LeeVees to me this summer, and when I finally got a copy of the album, I couldn’t wait to pop it in. Adam Gardner from the band Guster and Dave Schneider from the Zambonis a band that performs songs only about hockey teamed up on the Chanukah cut, for which they both took on the faux surname Leevee after Gardner’s childhood rabbi. They offer an indie-pop Gen Y take on Chanukah that is fun and inspiring in its Judeo-centricity if not particularly spiritual. The album made me laugh, and the music is clean and tight. And of course it gave me a lyric I can’t stop repeating from the song "How Do You Spell Channukkahh?"
"I remember when I was in elementary school, a Spanish kid told me that it starts with a silent J. But Julio was wrong. Or maybe he was right. Someone decide." (For more info, visit www. jdubrecords.org.)
"The Odd Potato" is an adaptation of Eileen Bluestone’s own family Chanukah story, which she has turned into a children’s book about the "Levi" family. And this album is the musical adaptation of that story, here performed by ‘0 Tony Award-winning Broadway actors ranging from Judd Hirsch to Lilias White.
The Odd Potato story goes as follows: Joe Levi had shown no joy for Chanukah since his wife had died. Whenever anyone mentioned the holiday, he merely grumbled something about the attic. From there, the story turns into a medley about potatoes and potato pancakes. The night before Chanukah, his daughter Rachel has a crisis. She goes to Weintraub’s Grocery to buy potatoes, but alas, Weintraub is all out. "I won’t give up hope," she sings, as Weintraub goes to the back of the store to see if he can find a potato for her. Will he emerge with an odd potato? To find out, listen to the end of the album. I couldn’t. But that’s me; I’m not into Broadway. And I’m trying to cut out starch. (www.theoddpotato.com)
Speaking of music I’m not into: Swing. When the movie "Swingers" came out, I was horrified at the number of people my age and slightly older who took up swing dancing. It’s not that I have anything against swing-dancing. I kinda like the broad-shoulder, tapered pants suits, and definitely like watching the flip-the-girl-upside-down dancing. I just never wanted to do it. The puffy hair also kinda freaks me out. I was biased against Kenny Ellis’ "Hanukkah Swings" album going in. (Someone should refer Ellis to the Levis how-to-spell-Chanukah song.) So, that I actually listened to all of Ellis’ album says something. Ellis, a cantor at Temple Beth Haverim in Agura Hills, Calif., has taken the Festival of Lights back to the ’50s, and given