Neshama Carlebach–daughter of the famed singer Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach–has dedicated her career to giving her father’s songs new life through recordings and concerts. But she’s never done it like this before.
On the 2009 album Higher and Higher, Neshama teamed up with the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir, a 26-member gospel choir based in Bronx, NY. The results are unlike any Jewish music you’ve ever heard. But there’s no denying the delight–or the devotion–in these songs.
If you’re familiar with Shlomo Carlebach’s thick, gravelly voice, then the opening strains of the album–in which the choir belts out the line from Psalms: “I lift my eyes/to the mountain/From where will my help come,” in a heavy, wall-to-wall blast of gospel–will catch you completely by surprise. Soon the choir cuts out, replaced by piano, drums, and Neshama’s voice–quiet and tentative, the opposite of the choir’s bombast. The rest of the song sweeps between these extremes, finally coming together in a soaring harmony.
The fact is, almost anything sounds better when sung by 26 people in perfect synchronicity. But something about these songs–and these arrangements–makes this album particularly, well, heavenly.