Jesse Rifkin is a young singer-songwriter and talented multi-instrumentalist who goes by the somewhat hokey moniker “The Wailing Wall.” For an overtly Jewish act this would be a sure sign of shlockiness, but for Rifkin, an orthodox-reared but now non-religious performer whose second full-length album, “The Low Hanging Fruit,” was released earlier this month, it’s merely silly.
Unfortunately, Rifkin’s choice of name is consistent with his music. Like his previous work, “The Low Hanging Fruit” is a middle-of-the-road indie rock album heavily in debt to bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and The Decemberists, along with a grab bag of other influences, ranging from Leonard Cohen (“For C.M.R.”) and Paul Simon (“Song”), to early R.E.M. (“Hands and Teeth”). Admittedly, Rifkin is a skilled songwriter, even if he does tend to lean on the easy emotion of minor key melodies. More impressive, however, are his instrumental arrangements, which are most powerful when they don’t smack of exotic indulgence.
Unfortunately, this is sometimes the case on “The Low Hanging Fruit,” as it wasn’t on Rifkin’s previous album, “Hospital Blossoms.” A quick look at his official bio confirms that the eastern sounds on this album are not just the result of a strange fondness for the sitar. “Still hungry and skeptical after 11 years of Orthodox day school education, and questioning his belief in a benevolent higher power, Jesse turned to the strains of Sufi Qawwali music, Hindu Kirtan chanting, Renaissance and Baroque church music.” While there’s nothing wrong with musical eclecticism, it sounds like these influences have yet to be fully digested.
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