You know how it is, when you meet someone at a party, and they say, “Hey, I’ve made some music I’d like you to hear,” and you’re like, “Sure, send it along”? Producer and drummer Dave Brophy recalls meeting Adriel for the first time, by chance, at a Passover Seder at a neighbor’s apartment in Boston.
Brophy thought, interesting guy with a great vibe, but then brushed off the exchange because in his experience, most people, while well-intentioned, don’t follow through and send their music. “They get shy,” he says. But not Adriel, who was both prompt and thorough. When Brophy opened Adriel’s folders of tunes, he was impressed by the songs he found in the folders titled “Pop Songs” and “Singer-Songwriter.” Then he opened the final folder, titled “Jewish Music.” His response was immediate. “I was totally blown away,” Brophy says. “It was just Adriel and his guitar, and these beautiful melodies and phrasing. I was intrigued by his voice, how it works so well in Hebrew.” And before Brophy knew it, he was calling Adriel to say, “I’m not Jewish, and I don’t understand the words here, but these songs have soul. You’ve got to make a Jewish world-music album.”
Adriel Borshansky grew up with music, both sacred and secular. He studied music at the same schools as his older brother (who he describes as “the real musician” of the family), learning piano and ear training, then jazz drums. At a young age he played percussion in jazz ensembles, then, thanks in part to a less-than-inspired teacher, Adriel began to move away from formal training, gravitating toward guitar and voice. Most importantly, he began writing his own songs.
As an undergrad studying religion in Walla Walla (WA), Adriel shared his early compositions with a handful of players with jazz backgrounds. Two instrumentalists and an Indian singer in particular brought a soulfulness that resonated with Adriel’s songs and global musical sensibilities, creating a sound he describes as “warm, bumpy, indie rock,” one that still inhabits his creative inclinations.
Fast forward to Adriel’s cross-country move to the Boston area, where he enrolled in Jewish Studies and Islamic Studies at Harvard’s Divinity School. Here he began to experiment with the sacred texts he was learning to read, setting them to his own melodies, and recording them, just voice and guitar. At the same time, Adriel began to meet Rabbis and friends outside of the university who inspired him and made his study of the Torah more personal. By learning original texts one-on-one and going to Shabbat meals, he found the spiritual depth that he had longed for. “Being authentic and courageous” Adriel says,“ is not a contradiction to being rooted in your tradition.” “You can be part of the collective story of your heritage,” he says, and you can share that with others, do it through music in an original way, and make it fun. This is the ethos that comes through in Adriel’s music. It’s also what drew each of his collaborators toward him and his project.
Adriel’s worldview and the groundedness of his compositions instantly sparked the interest of W;ll Dailey. Somehow, Adriel “balances ancient knowledge with modern awareness,” says Dailey, who signed the artist to his record label, “and that is something that’s so hard to achieve.” The songs are uplifting, “otherworldly,” Dailey says. This record needed to happen.
And it did, at an amazing speed, at Revolution Studios just a week before Adriel’s move to Jerusalem to continue his studies. He and Brophy put together the studio players. Brophy landed a bass player while Adriel serendipitously met a steel drum player from Trinidad and Tobago, also adding to the roster a Brazilian percussionist . The duo took a flexible approach to recording. There would be few rehearsals, no heavily-structured expectations, no “laying out of parts,” as Adriel puts it. “The songwriting would be the unifier,” he says, and the players would have the space to react to what they heard and felt in each song.
During those sessions, “something great happened,” Adriel says. “We didn’t need a translator, even though there were multiple languages among us in the room.” The studio work was also a lot of fun, says Adriel, who emphasizes this aspect of creative work. It should always be enjoyable.
And it was all of those things. Adriel, by now halfway around the world in Jerusalem, tinkered with some of the tunes, redoing a vocal here, adding a piano part there, until he was satisfied. The results are stunning: an intimate collection of songs based on Jewish texts, sung in Hebrew, and made manifest through warm indie/folk and world music stylings. The project is as much a meditation on universal experience as it is an expression of personal yearning. Adriel’s voice is sometimes that of a confidante, a singular soul whispering a sacred kind of poetry. Other times, he lifts it up in praise and the sheer joy of being alive. Always, there is a lightness, a litheness to his melodies and compositions. Add to that the organic layers of guitar, piano, cello, fiddle, oud, and steel pan, and you have an extraordinary Jewish world music album that, whether you know Hebrew or not, lifts you up, each song in a different way--from the wistful Katav Stav to the celebratory Modeh Ani to the profound and glorious Shema Koleinu. With an imagination akin to Zusha (NYC’s Hasidic folk/soul band), a gravitas that recalls Leonard Cohen, and a soulfulness that vibes with José González, Adriel is truly an artist to notice.