The Arty Semite

The Arty Semite Record Review: The Wailing Wall's 'The Low Hanging Fruit'

By Ezra Glinter

  • Print
  • Share Share

Jesse Rifkin is a young singer-songwriter and talented multi-instrumentalist who goes by the somewhat hokey moniker “The Wailing Wall.” For an overtly Jewish act this would be a sure sign of shlockiness, but for Rifkin, an orthodox-reared but now non-religious performer whose second full-length album, “The Low Hanging Fruit,” was released earlier this month, it’s merely silly.

Unfortunately, Rifkin’s choice of name is consistent with his music. Like his previous work, “The Low Hanging Fruit” is a middle-of-the-road indie rock album heavily in debt to bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and The Decemberists, along with a grab bag of other influences, ranging from Leonard Cohen (“For C.M.R.”) and Paul Simon (“Song”), to early R.E.M. (“Hands and Teeth”). Admittedly, Rifkin is a skilled songwriter, even if he does tend to lean on the easy emotion of minor key melodies. More impressive, however, are his instrumental arrangements, which are most powerful when they don’t smack of exotic indulgence.

Unfortunately, this is sometimes the case on “The Low Hanging Fruit,” as it wasn’t on Rifkin’s previous album, “Hospital Blossoms.” A quick look at his official bio confirms that the eastern sounds on this album are not just the result of a strange fondness for the sitar. “Still hungry and skeptical after 11 years of Orthodox day school education, and questioning his belief in a benevolent higher power, Jesse turned to the strains of Sufi Qawwali music, Hindu Kirtan chanting, Renaissance and Baroque church music.” While there’s nothing wrong with musical eclecticism, it sounds like these influences have yet to be fully digested.

Whatever influence Rifkin may be under, it apparently hasn’t had much of an effect on his lyrics, which bear the emotional ambiguities that mark most adolescent poetry. Consider, for example, the first lines of the opening track of his new album, “Speak Not Its Name”:

And I know there is light in each crack, in each corner
But I cling to the darkness forever more now
And when light comes to find me I will run to avoid it
Oh in heart I have craved it and in body destroyed it
I could speak not its name but it still would define me
I could break down its walls but it still would confine me

I’m sure Rifkin knows what he’s talking about, but me, I’m lost in the haze of generalities.

All of which isn’t to say that Rifkin doesn’t have potential – what he needs is the discipline to subject his writing to real poetic scrutiny and to rein his music in from melodic and instrumental indulgences. That’s hard work, but in Rifkin’s case it’ll certainly pay off.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: JDub Records, Record Review, The Wailing Wall

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.