Rocky and the Goldstein: Living a Chassidic Country Dream

11 Apr

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Move over Ray Benson, there is another country musician and member of the tribe who has rolled into town with a guitar strapped around his neck and yarmulke firmly on his head. Yes, Rocky Goldstein is about as unique as you can get as a musician. As titled, he is a Brooklyn Chassidic (type of Judaism) Country Musician, which, while it seems slightly peculiar, is actually pretty apt. When you consider the tenets of good country music – pleading tales of existential journeying and other dig-into-your-soul storytelling – it fits the Jewish story quite well. As we conclude another Passover, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the exodus of the Jewish people out of Egypt (the age-old tale of they tried to kill us but they didn’t succeed), I bring you Rocky Goldstein’s eclectic country tunes, and I am enlivened to do so, not just because I too shared bitter herbs and charoset at the seder table this Passover, but because Rocky & The Goldstein, the official name of the band profiled in this post, is an exciting band who, faith aside, plays fresh country/folk tunes that all should hear.

I had an opportunity to email Rocky a few questions for this post, and when I asked him about his musical journey, he immediately mentioned musicians like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Merle Haggard and how he can, with his music, “relate to the struggle and, of course, the joy” that these artists evince in their own tunes. That is what music is, right? A combination of these emotions that reflect the artist’s own life, which is what Rocky echoed to me in the interview. This mature foundation creates a well-rounded approach to music that Rocky, and the people who support his tunes reflect.

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Rocky is for all intents and purposes a solo musician, but Rocky & The Goldstein is made up of a select supporting cast consisting of the producers of his self-titled EP, Thomas Bryan Eaton and Alex Korinzer; Rocky’s writing partner Isaac Schapira; and fiddle player Craig Judelman, who can be heard prominently on the album’s initial track.

When I asked Rocky about the foundation of his sound, he recalled his exploration of Judaism and trip to Israel that sparked his musical inclinations.

“I played a few shows in New York and then went off to Israel for a year and half to learn in a Yeshiva, which is a Jewish higher learning institute. There, I met my good friend, Isaac Schapira. We both talked about our love for country music and started writing these mock American pride songs. Eventually, we decided to start writing songs about the experiences of what we were actually going through.  He really helped me hone in on writing lyrics with a clear message as opposed to cryptic, subconscious prose.” 

This prose and sound, as stated above, might be viewed as a bit odd, but when I asked him how a nice Jewish boy from Long Island gets into country music he explained a natural progression to the genre.

“Country music in particular always had these themes of self-deprecation, regret, and life lessons with religious undertones. Jewish identity is often defined by these characteristics. As I became more observant in my Judaism, I found songs like “Less of Me” by the Statler Brothers or “In my hour of darkness” by Gram Parsons to be songs I could relate to. They spoke about the struggle of going on a spiritual journey and the tribulations that came along with it.”

Let’s listen to some tunes.

“A Dream,” the initial track on the EP, features a traditional Jewish folk fiddle followed by Rocky’s grainy vocal that carries the piece. The guitar is plucked with upbeat intensity and the fiddle is never to far behind. I particularly enjoy the song’s simplicity, which, in my mind, is what makes good country music. It is vocal and strings mixed with light percussion, which acts like a perfect pairing.

“The Sun” is an ode to the singer/songwriter. Much in the vein of classic musicians like Paul Simon and more modern musicians like Vance Joy, Rocky’s vocal is smooth and tender and it carries the piece. The fiddle is such a great touch and it adds to the song’s dulcet sound. Using a culinary allusion, it simply tastes good, which makes sense, because when I asked Rocky to imagine a situation where he gets to dine with two musicians who inspired him, Rocky picked legends of the pen and harmony Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon, a classic dinner of “melody” and “lyric.” Asked what he’d get, he figured he’d go simple, “a beer or a coffee and maybe a knish, as long as it’s kosher,” of course.

 You can find the self titled EP on rockyandthegoldstein.com and purchase at http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/RockyandtheGoldstein. Feel free to like him on Facebook.

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