News and Views on Jews and Music

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News and Views on Jews and Music

Still reviewing, but nothing to review

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Our farmers are not the only ones dealing with a drought. My last music review was published in December of 2011. And that year, there were 12 months (as usual), but I only ran reviews in five.

I have been reviewing Jewish music since 1999well more than a decadeand have been one of the few people in the country to cover this beat with consistency. And I thought I had developed an understanding with Jewish musicians. It was a mutually beneficial and very simple arrangement: They send me their CDs; I write about them.

For the most part, I have liked what I have heard, and have written positive reviews. Even if the music was not to my personal tastes, I tried to think of an audience that would like it. And every once in a while, I found something just plain bad and decided it was not worth writing about (Two Live Jews comes to mind). So I think of myself as fair critic.

Now, for all of 2012, the well has been completely dry. Well, aside from, of all things, two book/CD sets of Yiddish music for kids, I have not received a single album to review this year. In 2011, I wrote reviews of the last CDs in my backlog… and even went back as far as 2007 to find music that had been sent to me that I had just never gotten around to writing about.

I am really at a loss. I don't know what happened. People I have been reviewing for years just are not sending me anything to review anymore. Some of these people, I have met, interviewed, and even become friends with. And now they send me, in a word, bupkes.

It's not about everything being "digital" and "downloads" now, because The Reader, The Onion and the major papers are constantly reviewing new CDs.

It could be that the economic crisis has been especially hard on musicians with niche audiences, and they simply haven't been able to afford to produce new material for a while.

The truth is, I just don't know the reason. I just know the fact that I used to get so many CDs I could barely find time to write about them all… and now I get none.

Seriously, I would gather the CDs by genre or theme so I could review them en masse, up to eight at a time. Some stacks were so big I would try to bind them together so they wouldn't topple over, and the rubber bands would snap. One musician was so eager to have me review his album, he burned me a copy right off his personal hard drive rather than wait for his record company to send me one.

Now my "to review" box is empty. I am trying hard to not take this personally, but it does feel like a rejection.

See, for the price of one CD and a few stamps, I can tell all the readers of JUF News, which goes to tens of thousands of homes in a huge (in Jewish terms) market, plus my online readers, about an album and/or upcoming performance in the Chicago area. Some of my reviews have even been picked up by other Jewish papers across the country. It's basically free publicity, which is nice for acts that run on a shoestring.

For the record (no pun intended), I am still reviewing Jewish music. If anyone is interested in a review, they can send me their CD, or even a link where I can hear all the songs on it, and I will tell everyone about it. E-mail me at paulwieder@juf.org and I'll send you the address. 

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