The Baal Shem Tones
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The Baal Shem Tones

Atlanta, Georgia, United States | INDIE

Atlanta, Georgia, United States | INDIE
Band World Singer/Songwriter


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Tuneful Re-awakening"

Tuneful Re-Awakening
For the Baal Shem Tones, ‘your soul just sort of writes’ the tunes
By Fran Nachman Putney, Atlanta Jewish Times
December 10, 2004

A memorable Shabbat dinner with friends was the catalyst for a song called “All Our Lives” that singer and songwriter Helene Kates wrote with her husband and musical partner, Michael. The song became the title track to their CD made earlier this year.
“We were sitting around the table, and it was like time had stopped. We were looking at the candles . . . and I could feel every other Jewish family on the planet being connected at that moment, even with those no longer here,” recalled Helene Kates.
Those are the kinds of profound moments that have inspired the Atlanta husband and wife duo, known in the world of Jewish music as the Baal Shem Tones. They will perform at a noon Chanukah lunch concert at Congregation Beth Shalom on Sunday, Dec. 12. The event is open to the community.
According to Eileen Cohn, Beth Shalom’s director of education, the Baal Shem Tones were so well received at a “mini-concert” last year that the shul wanted to bring them back for a main event.
“They have a great sound,” said Cohn.
The Chanukah concert will include original music written and performed by the duo, as well as traditional Chanukah fare. Children from the Beth Shalom religious school will accompany them on some songs.
While both have made their living teaching and performing music for many years, according to Kates, neither sang Jewish songs, nor had either one ever seriously written music of any kind. All that began to change when one day their daughter Sarah — now a 15-year-old Yeshiva Atlanta High School student — was a little girl and asked Helene to sing her a Jewish song.
It was the beginning of a process of Jewish re-awakening for the entire family that resulted in Sarah attending day school at Greenfield Hebrew Academy and Helene and Michael composing Jewish music.
They also studied Jewish music, with influences from some of the genre’s best, says Kates, including Neshama Carlebach and Sam Glaser. But the more they got into it, their own style just came naturally.
“When something has a Jewish feel, it’s usually written in a minor key, but it’s deeper than that,” explained Kates. “As corny as it sounds, your soul just sort of writes it that way.”
Most of the songs on their CD (available locally at Chosen Treasures or on the Internet on were written as expressions of personal experiences. Now, the Kateses take a more disciplined approach with their work and write every day, whether the muse has struck or not.
Married for 18 years, Kates says that she and Michael — who are members at Beth Tefillah — write well together. “I found we argued more when we were writing secular music. With Jewish music, it flows — it comes flying out of us.”
Kates has been singing since she was a child. Now, in addition to writing and performing, she teaches private voice lessons and is a music teacher at both Temple Sinai and Beth Shalom. Michael produces music through his company, Peradam Productions, teaches piano and is a music teacher at Shearith Israel in Morningside.
Helene Kates also performs with Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Mark Zimmerman in another Jewish group called Paz, in which the Conservative rabbi plays keyboard and is the lead vocalist.
Zimmerman has great admiration for Kates and her musical abilities and says he is looking forward to the Baal Shem Tones’ appearance at his synagogue for the Chanukah concert.
“Helene is delightful. She’s a dynamo of energy, has wonderful stage presence and connects with the audience beautifully,” said Zimmerman.
More, he said, “The material she wrote has a powerful spiritual punch to it. It stands out as different from standard musical Jewish fare.”
The Kateses are working on music for their next CD, says Helene, and they have submitted their first, “All Our Lives,” and several of its individual songs to the Grammy Awards. They are part of a grassroots movement that is encouraging the National Academy of Recording Artists to create a separate category for Jewish music.
In the meantime, one of their original songs is being included in a CD project to be released internationally by a not-for-profit organization called Voices For Israel. And if that isn’t keeping them busy enough, Helene and Michael are also considering doing an international tour.
- Atlanta Jewish Times

"CD Review: The Baal Shem Tones "Untold Stories""

Untold Stories is the second album from husband and wife songwriting team Michael and Helene Kates, a.k.a. The Baal Shem Tones. Released on independent label Peradam Productions, this CD is a must-have for any music connoisseur.

The CD opens with “Hineini (Here I Am),” a powerful statement of personal connection to G-d. “It’s about my own journey,” says Helene. “Sometimes my path seems clear, other times I feel totally lost. But there’s always a road back home, a connection waiting to be made. When I’m ready to hear, I hear.”

“Into the Light,” written by Michael, is rooted in Chassidic teaching. “When I heard the song, I fell in love with it,” says Helene, and indeed she delivers one of the most heartfelt vocals on the CD. Stellar mixes from Grammy winner Ben Wisch make this tiny dynamo sound bigger than life on every track.

Helene is the only vocalist on most tracks, layering lush harmonies over powerful melodic delivery. The exception is “Oh Shabbos Come In,” an a capella street corner quartet in which Michael sings all four parts. This simple yet multi-faceted song is an utterly infectious sing-along before candle lighting.

“Whispers of Shema” is an ambient blend of melody and meaning that truly lends itself to the spirit of the listener. “It was an improvisation following a meditation,” says Helene. “As Michael played, I heard slow strings of words that floated together and became the song. To me it represents the deepest level of hearing, an organic understanding and oneness.”

With Untold Stories, Michael has become a personal favorite songwriter and producer. Combined with the talents of some of Nashville’s finest session players, he and Wisch made this album of 12 songs a sheer pleasure to hear all the way through, again and again. Kickin’, up-tempo rockers, sweet and simple folk melodies interwoven with Hebrew and English lyrics, and wordless nigunim that speak straight to the soul are held together by a common thread of wonderful sound, creating a whole from different chapters.

Marcy Levinson-Brooks,
September 2010 - Atlanta Jewish News


Untold Stories (Peradam Productions)
All Our Lives (Peradam Productions)

CD Single:
"Whispers of Shema" and "Friday Night Nigun" (Peradam Productions)

Music Video:
Azor Li (Peradam Productions)



Singer Helene Kates of The Baal Shem Tones is a rising star in American Jewish music, and anyone who has seen this tiny dynamo in performance knows why. She bonds with her audience on a soul level, drawing them in with an open heart and powerfully sweet, vibrant mezzo-soprano voice. A Baal Shem Tones concert is more than great music; for many it is a spiritual event that stays with them for years.

Helene and her husband Michael, the duo's producer and former keyboardist for The Decos, co-write most of their material, a tightly-crafted style of pop-influenced Americana which has been described as "100% American and 100% Jewish," with "a powerful spiritual punch that stands out as different from standard Jewish musical fare."

When Helene and Michael met in the 1980s, both were working musicians holding down day jobs at – oddly enough – two different printing companies. They married and eventually had their own successful printing business, but felt an emptiness in their lives where before there had been music. So they sold the business, picked up their guitars and embarked on a musical and spiritual journey to re-connect with their Jewish roots. Since then they have been invited to perform at the Hadassah National Convention in Nashville, twice at the annual Chabad women's convention in New York, Federation fundraising events and dinners around the country, several CAJE conferences, and recently the kickoff conference for NewCAJE. In 2004 they released their first album All Our Lives to wide critical acclaim, and today their songs are being sung in synagogues around the world. Their second album Untold Stories was released in September 2010.