Let me begin this review by saying that I think children’s music with a Jewish focus is a terrific idea. Speaking as someone who gets up to his pupik in holiday songs every year, the overall lack of explicitly Jewish modern American music is a sad, troublesome thing, and any album that nudges the scales in the other direction is a good thing in my book. Earphones. Whatever.
On the other hand, I am honestly and utterly uncertain what to make of Mama Doni and her debut CD, I Love Herring (& Other Fish Shticks for Kids). It’s a most…unusual album, and when you consider that I’ve listened to multiple full-length efforts from Wing this year, that’s saying a lot. Not to muddle the religious waters, but as I listened to this album, I was frequently reminded of an expression used by the Mormon girls I knew in high school to signify surprise, befuddlement, and fear:
Here’s the deal: Mama Doni, also known as Doni Zasloff Thomas, has arranged 16 eclectic songs here, all of them relating in some way to Jewish…well, culture, I guess, but when you’re talking about songs with titles like “Bubbie’s Tupperware,” in which a gefilte fish named Shlomo is taken as a pet to show & tell, you have to understand that the emphasis is on its irreverent aspects.
Which is fine, really, but Mama Doni either really likes her morning (and afternoon, and evening) coffee, or she’s just naturally bursting with the kind of energy that drives a person to pose on the back cover of an album as a cowgirl with a shofar horn (“Jewish Cowgirl,” “Sportin’ My Kippah”), a wannabe Rastafarian (“Bagel Time,” “Shvitzin'”) and a floppy hat-wearing middle-aged woman (“Oy Yoy Yodel”). It’s a comedy album, sort of, but the humor is very over the top, and about as subtle as spoiled borscht.
Still, if you can handle Mama Doni’s relentless mugging, I Love Herring isn’t a bad record at all. It definitely fills a void in the marketplace, all the songs are written and performed well, and the production values are high. We’re still talking about an album that includes songs such as “Jewperheroes,” “Mensch Appeal,” and “Fahklempt,” but hey — maybe that’s just the sort of music you’ve been looking for. To sample some of Mama Doni’s wares (including her new holiday EP, I Love Chanukah!), visit her at her official site.