The Arty Semite

Monday Music: 'The Mystery and the Hum'

By Keith Meatto

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy Peter Himmelman

If you’re a singer-songwriter, it’s difficult to imagine having a father-in-law more intimidating than Bob Dylan. But Peter Himmelman hasn’t let his marriage to Dylan’s daughter stop him from making music. Over three decades as a journeyman, Himmelman has recorded 18 albums, including five for kids, and scored soundtracks for film and television shows such as “Bones.” And if Dylan’s relationship to Judaism is ambiguous at best, Himmelman identifies himself as “the first highly recognized Observant Jew since Sandy Koufax.”

Like his father-in-law, Himmelman is a Minnesota native with a penchant for Americana. On his latest record, “The Mystery and the Hum,” Himmelman plays a middle-aged mix of rock, folk, blues, and country music that you might hear at a bar in Middle America — or at New York’s City Winery, where he celebrated the album’s release November 14. Backed by guitars, bass, piano, and drums, his raspy voice recalls the growl of Tom Waits, the plaintiveness of Cat Stevens, and the twang of John Hiatt. While his songs are packed with pain, there are also glimpses of joy. Taken as a whole, “The Mystery and the Hum” comes across as a dialogue between melancholy and hope.

Although Himmelman cites the influence of Judaism on his life and music — and doesn’t perform on the Sabbath or Jewish holidays — several songs on “The Mystery and the Hum” allude to Christianity. “Motel Room in Davenport” juxtaposes a Gideon’s Bible with an advertisement for a massage parlor. “This Lifeboat’s on Fire” finds him “singing like a mad believer/in a gospel choir.” And the album’s opening blues, “Georgia Clay,” finds him waiting for the resurrection.

Listen to ‘Motel Room in Davenport’:

If the opaqueness of Dylan’s lyrics has inspired endless academic and amateur analysis, Himmelman’s lyrics are a lesson in literalism. With their earnestness and simplicity many of his new songs hew to archetypal themes of love, yearning, and obsession (“I want to change my channel…’Cause all I can think about is you.”) Himmelman, who turns 50 next week, also seems fixed on the passage of time, epitomized by “Raining From Satellite” which declares “Hey, hey, hey/Time slips away.”

While Dylan has often alienated and bewildered his fans with his willingness to change and abandon styles in search of the next best thing, Himmelman seems focused on familiarity and accessibility. Whether he’s singing a guitar anthem or a piano ballad, his music on “The Mystery and the Hum” holds few surprises. But if Himmelman has any doubts about his decisions, he silences them in the chorus of the album’s penultimate song: “Everybody loves you/When you don’t give a damn.”

Watch Peter Himmelman play ‘Georgia Clay’ at City Winery:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Peter Himmelman, The Mystery and the Hum, Music, Minnesota, Keith Meatto, John Hiatt, City Winery, Cat Stevens, Bones, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits

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!
  • "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.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • 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.