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!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • 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.