The year was 2004. Gas was $1.60 per gallon. Our president was George W. Bush. The war with Iraq was wrapping up. The Boston Red Sox won the World Series. And Journeys Vol. 4 was released.
Fast forward to March 2022. A lot has changed, but all the while the creative and musical mind of Abie Rotenberg was generating new compositions, lyrics, and songs. In addition to writing books, including ArtScroll’s book on the life of Eliyahu haNavi and “The Season of Pepsi Meyers,” he was also working on musical projects – including Journeys Vol. 5.
For those who may not know, Abie is the prolific composer and force behind the seminal albums “Dveykus,” “Lev V’Nefesh,” “Marvelous Midos Machine,” “AISH,” and of course, the legendary “Journeys.” Journeys Vol. 5 features 15 songs written by Abie and his children and performed by Abie, accompanied by a who’s who of popular Jewish music personalities such as Avraham Fried, Benny Friedman, Gershon Veroba, 8th Day, Shulem Lemmer, Boruch Levine, and Mordechai Shapiro. Indeed, it’s apropos that the album opens with a song called “Chaverim Kol Yisrael” (“All Jews Are Friends”).
In Abie’s inimitable form, most of the musical stories and original songs reflect or portray journeys in some form. Rebuilding from the ruins and/or rebounding from the depths are also pervasive themes. Many of the musical stories, including “From the Ashes,” masterfully capture individuals and the Jewish people as a nation overcoming tragedy and adversity. The blend of slow, emotional songs like “My Little Town,” and upbeat tunes like the creative remake of the classic Moshe Yess, z”l, tune, “Ain’t No Bishul,” take the listener on a rollercoaster of emotions.
Avraham Fried is featured on one of the most powerful “Journeys” songs ever. Based on a true story, “Al HaTzadikim” tells of a moral dilemma facing a rebbe prior to the first Pesach after liberation from the Holocaust. Fried’s emotion and voice help us sense the agony and pain the rebbe must have felt as he struggled with the decision.
The album features other Holocaust-related songs, some contributed by Abie’s children. Did he have a problem letting go and allowing others to give input into the songs on the album? “Without them, this album might not have happened,” he says. They allowed him to offer suggestions on words and phrasing, so he found it easier to share creative responsibilities with them.
Born in New York and currently living in Toronto, Canada, Abie works in a family import-export fashion accessories business. Despite being geographically removed from the epicenter of Jewish music in New York – and admitting that he spends more time listening to sports coverage and news broadcasts than to music – he appears to have his finger firmly placed on the pulse of what’s happening on the Jewish music scene. The final song on the album is an updated “We’ve Got the Music.” For those who remember the original “We’ve Got the Music” from Journeys Volume 3, you are in for a treat: with the boys from “Dveykus” contributing vocals, the song catches us up on 25 years of developments in the Jewish music world since the advent of the compact disc.
What makes this album unique, according to Abie, is that the artists weren’t sent the music and left to record their parts on their own. “They each came into the studio with me and producer and arranger, Doni Gross, and painstakingly labored over every nuance, inflection and note of their designated song to get it to sound just the way we imagined it,” he says.
“Writing the songs and saying the right thing in the right way is the most difficult part of the process,” says Abie, but picking which singer would sing each song was not hard since in his mind he knew who would fit each tune. When he had ten new songs ready to go, that’s when he knew it was time to release Journeys 5 to the world. It took two years to arrange, record, produce and master the album. After one listen, you will hear why it was worth the nearly two-decade wait.
Most of Abie Rotenberg’s music can be found on all major streaming platforms.