Amid a flurry of Christmas songs, Hanukkah is getting a much-needed musical boost with a new star-studded album Hanukkah+, featuring new originals and standards performed by Jack Black, Haim, The Flaming Lips, Yo La Tengo, Loudon Wainwright III, Adam Green of Moldy Peaches and more.
The album is due out on 22 November via Verve Forecast, with a vinyl release to follow on 13 December and is available for pre-order.
Inspired in part by Yo La Tengo’s annual eight-night concert run ‘Hanukkah Run’ at the now shuttered Maxwell’s in Jersey City, which initially started in 2001. Produced by Grammy winning music supervisor Randall Poster, Hanukkah+ came together thanks to Poster calling upon many of his musician friends and colleagues.
As Yo La Tengo recall, “When our old friend Randy Poster asked us to contribute to an album of Hanukkah songs he was putting together, we were kind of stumped. As non-practicing Jews (and non-Jews), truthfully the holiday has little meaning for us (that’s the meta joke behind Yo La Tengo’s Hanukkah shows), but we were open to inspiration. We thought maybe another friend, Sam Elwitt, could crack the code, and we think he did a fantastic job with his composition ‘Eight Candles’.”
Poster also contacted Adam Green of Moldy Peaches to write a power pop gem. The result is ‘Dreidels of Fire’, which tells the story of the oil that burned for eight days (“how do you explain that shiz?” Green asks) into a modern romance around the menorah (“she turned my festival of lights into a festival of pain”).
Poster also recruited the sibling trio trio Haim to sing Leonard Cohen’s ‘If It Be Your Will’, a prayer-like song from Cohen’s 1984 album Various Positions. Another surprising addition is the Watkins Family Hour covering Woodie Guthrie’s ‘Hanukkah Dance’.
Alex Frankel from electronic duo Holy Ghost (and self-proclaimed Hebrew School Dropout) reflects on his holiday memories with the original track, ‘Hanukkah in ’96’, which he calls, “the greatest Jewish song ever written (in a major key)”.
Another original composition comes from The Flaming Lips, who contribute their song, ‘Sing It Now, Sing It Somehow’. They were a natural choice according to Poster who said, “seeing the Flaming Lips is like going to temple – if they had unicorns and body glitter as sacraments. So, I thought their spiritual connection would be relevant to celebration, contemplation and the spirit of the holiday.”
Hanukkah+ also boasts contributions from non-Jewish artists, like famous singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright, who figured if Irving Berlin can write ‘White Christmas’, why can’t he write a Hanukkah song? The result is the hilarious, ‘Eight Nights a Week’.
But the real impetus behind Hanukkah+ came from comedian and musician Jack Black, who wrote two new songs for Poster’s project.
“That was the gift wrapping,” he says. Black contributed the traditional ‘Oh Hanukkah’ and a rendition of ‘Chad Gadya’, which typically closes the Passover seder. “They’re almost cantorial renditions, but there’s no mystery who’s singing,” says Poster. “There’s a real Jewish sparkle to it, and Jack really gave us a frame to hold the rest of the record.”
With countless Christmas albums flooding the market, Poster shared his motivation behind putting together Hanukkah+:
“I tried to create a spiritual reflection of one of the three big Jewish holidays,” he says. “How do you make something where each song is part of a whole? I built it piece by piece, artist by artist.”
Hanukkah+ is out on 22 November and can be pre-ordered here. View the complete tracklist below.
1. ‘Oh Hanukkah’ – Jack Black
2. ‘Dreidels Of Fire’ – Adam Green
3. ‘Eight Candles’ – Yo La Tengo
4. ‘If It Be Your Will’ – HAIM
5. ‘Sing It Now, Sing It Somehow’ – The Flaming Lips
6. ‘Hanukkah In ‘96’ – Alex Frankel
7. ‘Give You Everything’ – Buzzy Lee
8. ‘Dedication’ – Tommy Guerrero
9. ‘Eight Nights A Week’ – Loudon Wainwright III
10. ‘Hanukkah Dance’ – Watkins Family Hour
11. ‘Sanctuary’ – Craig Wedren
12. ‘Chad Gadya (Passover Bonus)’ – Jack Black