Ricky Orbach (Words, Music, Guitar)
“A significant new voice on the contemporary music scene. ...Orbach's songs are so character-driven and his voice and musical approach so distinctive (in the way that Tom Waits sounds like no one other than Tom Waits) that it's fair to call Orbach a true original.“
.. Seth Rogovoy, Writer, award-winning critic and author of Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet
“An American Serge Gainsbourg, Kohane of Newark's NEW MIDLIFE CRISIS probes the dark, sensitive heart of the Jewish experience. Equal parts Lou Reed/Alexander Portnoy/Jonathan Richman/Delmore Schwartz the result is late-night therapy drenched in beautiful music.“
.. Steven Lee Beeber, Author The Heebie Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk
“Killer Jew-punk panopticon / horn 'a plenty /musical manna from heaven courtesy Kohane of Newark and a cast of thou--nice touches from Avram Pengas, Deerfrance, Ficca, Lloyd, and Ribot, and much much more” ..
Gary Lucas, Guitarist extraordinaire, composer, producer (Captain Beefheart, Jeff Buckley, Chris Cornell) ..
A "...cholent of angst and wisdom......a full-fledged, lovingly crafted alternative rock operetta, infused with spicy Oriental musical flavors as vibrant as traditional Bukharan robes.” ..
The Forward , Review by Uzi Silber
Jon Madof (Guitar, Voice and Banjo)
"Like you've invited Dick Dale to do the music at your bar mitzvah."
NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday with Liane Hansen
"Madof essays with Jim Hall-like sensitivity alternated with a Hendrixian abandon."
Eyal Maoz (Guitar and Voice)
“There's no doubt Eyal Maoz is in a exclusive club of post-Jimi Hendrix guitarists who include Nels Cline, Hilmar Jensson, Scott Fields, David Torn, and the legendary Terje Rypdal.”– Michael G. Nastos – All Music Guide. September 2009
“A cutting edge guitarist who combines the harmonic lyricism of Bill Frisell with the angst and skronk of Marc Ribot…keep your eyes and ears on this guy” – John Zorn
Yuval Lion (Drums)
"I've had the privilege of playing with Michael Shrieve (Santana) and Billy Ficca (Television) but the drummer who does my songs the most justice is Yuval Lion. I love this guy!"
Ricky Orbach, Kohane of Newark
Players who occasionally find their way into the ranks are...Patrick Derivaz, Mathias Kunzli, Billy Ficca and JD Foster.
Ricky Orbach - Guitar, words, Cumbus
Yuval Lion - Drums
Eyal Maoz - Guitar, voice
Jon Madof - Banjo, Guitar, voice
New Midlife Crisis (2009, Joodayoh)
Appearing on New Midlife Crisis...
Voice, Guitars, Cumbus, Bass, Banjo & sticky substances:
DR. MICK "04" GOLDSTEIN
Drums & Middle Eastern Percussion:
RICKY ORBACH & PATRICK DERIVAZ
JD FOSTER and SHAHZAD ISMAILY
Mixing & Engineering:
Andy Vandette MASTERDISK
Ricky Orbach: Killer Jew Punk
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Texts and Tunes Ricky Orbach: Killer Jew Punk by Seth Rogovoy Kohane of Newark is the "nom de b...Texts and Tunes
Ricky Orbach: Killer Jew Punk
by Seth Rogovoy
Kohane of Newark is the "nom de band" of rock singer-songwriter Ricky Orbach, the son of Holocaust survivors who recently released a haunting, musically eclectic collection of original songs called "New Midlife Crisis" (Joodayoh). Orbach's music has been described as "killer Jew-punk" and he's been compared to Serge Gainsbourg, Leonard Cohen, and David Byrne, among others (and I would add Lou Reed as a significant influence), but Orbach's songs are so character-driven and his voice and musical approach so distinctive (in the way that Tom Waits sounds like no one other than Tom Waits) that it's fair to call Orbach a true original.
And "New Midlife Crisis" reads like a memoir in song, touching down variously in songs about his childhood, his family, his adult relationships, which seemingly have included marriage and divorce, violent tragedy, and a yearning for spirituality and peace.
None of these, however, are fully divorced from the Jewish context that informs everything Orbach does. It permeates his lyrics: "Words can make the desert bloom"; "I've tried to get religion and religion seems to be getting back at me"; "I'm not that lazy but I can be a schmuck." His scenarios: a family crisis set against the eight days of Hanukkah; the names of his characters, as in the love song, "Shoshana"; a song called "Pizza," obviously a reference to the Jerusalem Sbarro bombing; and a bar mitzvah, which plays a role in Orbach's character sketch, "Follow."
Orbach's back story supposedly includes a yeshiva upbringing and a successful career as a gem dealer, which presumably has funded his nighttime career as an underground experimental rocker and a budding philanthropist as the power behind the nonprofit organization, "Joodayoh," an arts and education organization whose mission is to cultivate and present genuinely innovative - even alternative - art that promotes the trans-denominational, universal values of social justice, kindness, and charity.
Musically, "New Midlife Crisis" ranges from the classic punk-rock sound of "I Want to Change," to the downtown jazz of "Words," to the Lou Reed-like story-song "Festival," to the noirish cabaret-rock sound of "Follow," to the minimalist New York rock of "Clean." The grandson of a well-known, Newark-based cantor, Orbach has a deep, expressive voice, like a smoother Leonard Cohen. While Orbach plays a wealth of instruments himself - including guitars, bass, percussion, and banjo - he also engages the talents of some of New York's finest, including guitarists Marc Ribot and Richard Lloyd, and cellist Marika Hughes. Also on hand are an ensemble of Middle Eastern musicians on bouzouki, kanoon, vocals, and percussion, giving the effort an appropriate world-beat flavor at times, such as on the Paul Simon-like title track (think "Graceland").
Jewish or not, "New Midlife Crisis" would have marked the arrival - however late in midlife it is - of a significant new voice on the contemporary music scene.
The fact that it gains heft and impact through its rootedness in a life and legacy with ancient spiritual and historical roots just makes it all the more transcendent music for the ages, for all ages.
Seth Rogovoy is the editor-in-chief of Berkshire Living Magazine and the author of The Essential Klezmer: A Music Lover's Guide to Jewish Roots and Soul Music. His book, BOB DYLAN: Prophet, Mystic, Poet, was recently published by Scribner.
Kohane Rocks Exotic and Hot
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The jacket cover of “New Midlife Crisis,” the debut CD by Kohane of Newark, scheduled for release in...The jacket cover of “New Midlife Crisis,” the debut CD by Kohane of Newark, scheduled for release in October, features an image of a larger-than-life bird’s eye view of a rumpled and stained velvet skullcap, doubtless donned at some Jewish function that took place around the time that Fonzie and Vinnie Barbarino dominated the boob tube.
Yet the pizza-pie-like CD beneath this ratty yarmulke features a dazzling smorgasbord of tunes, ranging from the forlorn and inane to the hilarious and horrifying. Kohane, led by its lead singer/songwriter, Ricky Orbach, and powered by an accomplished ensemble, has produced a collection that is at once rocking, soulful and eclectic. “New Midlife Crisis” is in fact a Jewishly exotic update of that classic 1970s specimen: the concept rock album.
As such, the disc is encased in an artfully appointed and inscribed jacket and sleeve. After all, what’s a Kohane without his priestly accoutrements? This lavish presentation underscores the ambition and intensely autobiographical nature of the work. Envisioning his art as a holistic sensory experience, Orbach seems to be insisting that as the music is listened to, the lyrics must be read and the accompanying visual images carefully inspected.
And what are these images? Beyond the aforementioned yarmulke and pizza-pie CD, one encounters a shimmering solar disc balanced precariously upon the baldhead of an enigmatic, Robocop-ish figure (Orbach, presumably) trapped in a glass chamber. The Egyptian sun god Ra comes to mind. Then there is an in-your-face basketball, complemented by an unusual round Purim megilla of Oriental provenance.
Yarmulke, pizza pie, sun disc, basketball, round megillah — all Orbach’s slice-of-life allusions to cosmic circularity encompassing the mysteries and absurdities of existence: Seasons come and ex-wives go, religion goes around, clean apartments become dirty and the Phoenix-like Jews emerge from the flames of catastrophe, only to face down some new enemy seeking their destruction.
And what’s with the basketball? Rumors of Orbach as a one-time yeshiva superstar hoopster allow us to place into perspective the ironically titled and brooding opening track, “Cheers” — which, the singer croons, “I haven’t heard… in years.”
The morose “Cheers” gives way to the charged riffs of “Festival,” a colorful suburban childhood tale of a precocious teenage older sister who disappears for the eight days of Hanukkah with a guy “my daddy called trouble.”
The meditative guitar strains of “I Don’t Mind” descend into the pitch darkness of “Pizza.” This disturbing effort to come to terms with a suicide bombing in Jerusalem evokes echoes of Tom Waits and also of Leonard Cohen, whose spirit also may be sensed in “Shoshana.”
“Clean” is a hilariously deadpan commentary on the minutiae of daily drudgery. Orbach triumphantly completes the cycle with the exultant and gorgeously arranged title track, “New Midlife Crisis.”
What this all adds up to is nothing less than a full-fledged, lovingly crafted alternative rock operetta, infused with spicy Oriental musical flavors as vibrant as traditional Bukharan robes. This cholent of angst and wisdom has been a half-century in the brewing, and is refracted through the eyes of a child of the Holocaust, first yeshiva boy-turned-hipster and finally a wizened but true artist.
“New Midlife Crisis” successfully blends Orbach’s two inner Easts: the Jewish suburban Northeast and the crazy-quilt Middle East. This son, brother, lover, husband and father is a lifelong straddler: American and Jew, 21st century but traditional and, like many baby boomers, New Jersey child and adult.
And yet it’s more than all that. The vivid dramas of ordinary life related by this raconteur are Orbach’s inspired scriptures. And just as the Torah and megillah chanted while the congregation reads along, so are we invited to absorb the words and pictures as we listen to Orbach wail and weave his dense, world-weary yet playful poem-stories through his intriguing melodies.
It’s a glum observation that such 1970s-era stars such as Lou Reed, Elton John, David Bowie and Pete Townsend achieved their creative peaks under the spell of drugs and alcohol and that when they eventually went dry, their creative juices followed suit.
Given such a history, it’s deeply gratifying to encounter a new artist such as Orbach, for whom the process of emergence took a bit longer to finally ripen. This is one new midlife crisis whose arrival is most welcome.
Uzi Silber is a writer and artist living on the Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He is at work on a graphic novel about the neighborhood.
Kohane of Newark: The Interview
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Ricky Orbach is a singer, poet, music producer, and patron of the arts — but, really, it’s more accu...Ricky Orbach is a singer, poet, music producer, and patron of the arts — but, really, it’s more accurate to just call him Kohane of Newark.
His first CD features some of the most highly-acclaimed experimental rock and jazz musicians in the New York scene — but, most prominently, it features Orbach’s lyrics. They are sometimes awkward and darkly meaningful, like “Pizza” (an ode to the victims of the Israel Sbarro’s bombing); sometimes funny and angry and nostalgic, and the angst and sexual awakening of “Festival” — which is quite possibly the most introverted Hanukkah song I’ve ever heard. Then there’s the “White Wedding”-inspired anti-love anthem “Shoshana” (“Shoshana’s had all her dreams shattered/by me”). Characterized with deep grooves, moody, dark jazz, and all-out rock, “Kohane” is weird and extroverted and unexpectedly both raucous and meditative.
Below, we talk to Orbach about his music, his idols, the tenuous status of his priesthood, and the status of New Jersey as the new Jerusalem. Listen to the album and buy it here. Come back later today for a chance to win a copy — but, for now, check out the Kohane himself.
Question: There’s a lot of potential midlife crises on the album: religious, emotional, relationship-al. What’s it like to have a midlife crisis — presuming, of course, that you’ve had one?
Answer: You happen to catch me on a good week. It's actually not a midlife crisis I'm undergoing, but a "new" midlife crisis (emphasis on “new” for renewal) like the record says and yes, it is in full swing!
Question: Why do you think there’s no sort of official midlife ritual in Judaism, like there is with being born or getting married or becoming an adult?
Answer: Rituals serve as bookends for all the stuff that goes on in between them. The unofficial midlife ritual for most human beings is the crisis itself. The significant events — birth, marriage, bar/bat mitzvah and death - are really the parents of crisis. You could argue that midlife begins when you're born because damn it, who knows if you'll make it through the night?
The title song celebrates this "candle flickering" signifying both life and death co-existing in the space between our breathing and not breathing as we make our way through our lives.
Question: What’s your relationship with Marc Ribot?
Answer: Since the early 1980s, I'd seen Marc play dozens of times around town and sometimes we'd talk shop after a show. We really met however when he came to a shul in my neighborhood for Shabbat in search of a potential shul for him and his daughter shortly after his divorce. After services, we had coffee and conversation. A few months later, Marc and his daughter joined my family for Kol Nidrei. I'd like to get together with him more often but because he's such a studio rat, Marc is usually booked solid.
Question: How did you two start working together?
Answer: Like I said, Ribot is a very busy guy. Initially, he turned me down but I was committed to his presence and I changed my schedule to work with his. I also begged him.
I hold close to my heart the first time Ribot "read" me. In the studio after we performed a take of "Festival" he pulled me aside during playback and said he knew what I was doing. "You're the Jewish Brian Wilson," Marc began. I think of this moment as a watershed; I had my first taker and these words were coming from the guy who shaped whatever Tom Waits did after Rain Dogs. Ribot went on to say that my "writing songs about the ordinary everyday American-Jewish experience" was "subversive stuff" Marc nailed my Velvets/Talking Head connection then and there and my cat was out of the bag.
Question: Did you play these songs live before recording them, or did it work the other way around?
Answer: I wish that I could have played these songs out first but I did'nt. Most of these songs were fresh out of my head and I never played them live before recording them. Essentially, the musicians were introduced to the music in the studio from a homemade demo I made a couple weeks before the session. Eight songs were written in a three-week spurt two months prior to the studio, and they shaped the New Midlife Crisis storyline. No rehearsal, no pre-production, no transcription and no real rules; I just figured as long as I have people like Ribot, Richard Lloyd and Avram Pengas in tow, I may as well go for the jugular and catch their first attempts - and mine - at shaping the songs. Our average was two takes and a couple tunes went to three. Otherwise, it was vitality uber alles. I don't think many other concept records are born this way, though I could be wrong.
Question: In your band name, “Kohane” has an ambiguous spelling: it could be kohen, like the high priest, or “Kahane,” like the Jewish terrorist and founder of the JDL. What made you pick it? If you’re a kohen, have your special skills ever gotten you anywhere? And, why Newark?
Answer: Like Philip Roth, Jerry Lewis, Allen Ginsberg and Marc Ribot, I was born in Newark. Newark was a hub of Jewish life in the tri-state area, and now all evidence of Jewish life and learning has been erased from there.
In 2004, I traveled a number of times to Newark to photograph all of the shuls and Jewish landmarks I remembered as a child, and took my late dad with me to help me recall names and places. Our trips revealed that all traces of Jewish life in this were purposely extinguished. Shuls were turned to churches. The Custer Avenue Shul, where my grandfather (Chazan Yehuda Geier a well known cantor) led the davening, now has all of its stained-glass windows covered up and a plaque awkwardly inserted on it making it appear as if it was established as a Baptist church in 1936.
My day school, the Hebrew Youth Academy, is now an annex while the two largest shuls in Newark in the 1960s are now Baptist churches. I come from a place whose demographic sociological essence has now been completely covered up. All evidence of a once thriving Jewish community has been obliterated and this is the stuff of my origins. While relatively benign compared to my parents loss of their home city (Berlin), this loss of my home city is no small thing for me, a child of holocaust survivors.
As for "kohane," I can't say that any conscious purpose went into its spelling but as long as you’re Rorschach-ing me, I suppose that I may have wanted a spelling that could be both easily read and easily pronounced. You could say I enjoy doing stuff the kohane way; I duchen [bless the congregation] in shul, I give blessings to my kids and family, and I am very cognizant of the responsibilities associated with my ancient station.
I often wonder how "real" my kohane title is and I probably will do a genetic check one of these days — but, till then, I have a theory I call the "kohane on the hill" theory. [Read the theory below.]
Question: What’s the story behind “Festival”? How much of it is true — and where did the idea to turn that into a song come from?
Answer: “Festival” is the oldest tune on the CD. The story is pretty much as the story reads: A 13-year-old boy documents his loss of innocence by betraying his older sister making out in her boyfriend’s car the night before Chanukah. Holocaust-surviving father with a penchant for emotional explosions drags the sister and brooding boyfriend in the living room for his paternal ultimatum: "If you want to stay in this house, you stop seeing him." Sister chooses "him," storms out of the house and goes AWOL for most of Chanukah. Mother holds the pain inside to hold the family together, to counter the father’s brooding while the lighting of the menorah becomes a reflection of the pain in her eyes.
Sister shows up a week later Shabbos morning with breakfast and life goes on — but never quite the same after that. Kind of like Tennessee Williams heads to the Garden State and discovers a Jewish refugee family in suburban distress, wouldn't you say?
I wrote the tune in the late ’90s and presented it to Lou Reed around the same time backstage at the Bottom Line after reading that he was looking for a Hanukkah song. I convinced Alan Pepper (co-owner of the Bottom Line and a friend) to allow me backstage and he ushered me in. I gave Lou a lyric sheet and a cassette. He put them both in his guitar case. Lou never said a word and I never heard from him. I gave him my CD recently too - not a word so far.
Question: Was this a one-off project, or are you going to tour with the material? What are you working on next?
Answer: Kohane of Newark's world is just getting started. I'm sifting through 33 new songs to end up with a dozen for my new CD, and I'll start performing in the fall. I hope to record in early 2010 and release it later that year. The new record will be very pared-down and will be more about my guitar and voice than New Midlife Crisis was. I also founded the nonprofit Joodayoh, which has some really cool stuff on the burner like Pioneers for a Cure, which raises funds for cancer research, care and treatment by rejuvenating pioneer songs of yore. And Joodayoh's got some other cool projects in development as well.
I'm overloaded — and that's not even counting my day job. All this activity gives me hope to that at a time when most of my peers are heading into the "descent" and "comforts" stages of their midlives, I am still raging against the dying of the light.
Ricky Orbach’s Theory of Priestly Descent
Imagine an Eastern-European couple - Yankel & Rivki — in the 1800s, leaving their seaside village with their children, the few possessions they could muster in an hour and fit in a rickety wagon whilst escaping from an anti-Semitic pogrom. They travel inland for weeks sleeping outside and always with one eye open to keep watch over the children and protect them from wild animals and robbers in the night. Then one morning, as they ascend a hilly mountain range, they find themselves perched upon a hill from where they see a bustling village in the distance.
"Yankel, this is a good place to settle and raise our family," says Rivki
"Yes," Yankel sighs, "but, Rivki — what will I do to earn a living? All of my skills were those I learned being a fisherman and working by the sea. There is not even a pond in sight let alone a lake where I might catch fish to sell. We have no friends or family here and I do not know where I can start. I will have to beg until I can establish myself here in some way."
"My husband will NEVER beg," Rivki exclaims in a quiet insistent voice. "You must re-invent yourself to save your family and start anew. You will go to the shul tomorrow morning and introduce yourself as a ‘kohane.’ This way, we will have a chance to win favor in the community and your children will eat well and not like paupers."
"i will do this for you and our children, Rivki. Let us go to the town and begin our lives again. May Hashem forgive me for this deception and may my prayers and incantations as a kohane reach him as if I were truly of the caste."
An American Serge Gainsbourg
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“An American Serge Gainsbourg, Kohane of Newark's NEW MIDLIFE CRISIS probes the dark, sensitive hear...“An American Serge Gainsbourg, Kohane of Newark's NEW MIDLIFE CRISIS probes the dark, sensitive heart of the Jewish experience. Equal parts Lou Reed/Alexander Portnoy/Jonathan Richman/Delmore Schwartz the result is late-night therapy drenched in beautiful music.“
4.5 out of 5 Star for New Midlfe Crisis
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(In a review entitled "Music of Awe," George Robinson, dean of Jewish music reviewers (like a Yiddis...(In a review entitled "Music of Awe," George Robinson, dean of Jewish music reviewers (like a Yiddishe Robert Christgau) has chosen Kohane of Newark's NEW MIDLIFE CRISIS to be amongst 6 other CD's that generate the "adrenaline rush that is compounded of equal parts dread, awe and love.")
Kohane of Newark:
“New Midlife Crisis” (Joodayoh)
This one has been lingering in a prominent place on the CD changer in our house. A smart, funny collection of original songs, played in a sort of folk-punk-cum-Middle Eastern style. Kohane, a former yeshiva bocher named Ricky Orbach, writes clever, bittersweet songs about growing out of one’s family and into a Jewish identity that has its pros and cons. A very entertaining debut set, available from iTunes or at www.myspace.com/kohaneofnewark.
Rating: **** 1/2.
It's a Jolly Ripple Christmas and Rock and Roll Hannukah
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Since tomorrow is Christmas and today is the middle of Hannukah, we got a few more Ripple goodies fo...Since tomorrow is Christmas and today is the middle of Hannukah, we got a few more Ripple goodies for you.
This first one blew me away. Check out this killer jew punk blast of a Hannuhak song that features none other than famous ex-Television guitarist and living legend, Richard Lloyd. This is quite positively the best Hannukah song I've ever heard!
Kohane of Newark can perform a 20-30 minute opening act or a 45-90 minute headlining show. (I should mention that if the opportunity to play a long "jam" set ever came about, we'd love to kick it open as our players hail from the John Zorn school of improv and love tearing it up!)
While our show features original music, we enjoy morphing an original into a cover when the mood hits or just playing a cool unexpected cover to keep everyone on their toes. And we do it our way which means it won't sound much like the cover, if you know what we mean.
Our show is intense, fast paced - from a gentle whisper to a fusillade of white noise - musical risks are taken and we pride ourselves on being consummate listeners in that we listen to each other while we play, and of course to you and to our audience.
A note from Ricky Orbach regarding black-out days and times: Kohane of Newark does not perform on Friday nights, Saturday during the day (though Saturday night is acceptable), the Jewish High Holy Days & certain Jewish holidays. I realize that while this limits us in some ways, it invigorates us in others. Thank you for your understanding.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.