How a Jewish Bandleader Was Inspired To Record His First Solo Album

In his 20’s, Dov Rosenblatt thrilled New York fans fronting the Jewish rock group, Blue Fringe. In his 30s, while living in Los Angeles, he teamed up with the talented Duvid Swirsky of Moshav and Ami Kozak to form Distant Cousins, a group in which he still performs.

Now 41, he has moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to be the Cantor-In-Residence of Sherith Israel. He leads prayers three Sabbaths a month, which rekindled a desire he had since his youth — to release a solo album.

“From the first time stepping up to the bima and leading services, it inspired me, and I ended up writing a few more tunes and I realized I had an album’s worth,” Rosenblatt told the Journal.

He enjoys working at the synagogue and meeting those in the close-knit community. Despite playing music in front of thousands over the years, he was at first slightly nervous to lead prayers.

Making an album with a group is largely a collaborative effort; for his solo album, he wanted someone to bounce ideas off. He enlisted the aid of producer Joshua Grange, a pedal-steel guitar player who has worked with top artists, including k.d. lang and Eleni Mandell. “He’s definitely the real deal and a tasteful and soulful player,” Rosenblatt said.

Rosenblatt has a knack for taking Hebrew words of prayer and putting original and inspiring tunes to them. “HaNeshama Lach,” the first single from his upcoming album, “V’emunatcha Balalilot,” is especially beautiful. The album gets its name from the phrase which refers to belief in the night, which is part of the “Tov Lehodot” prayer chanted on the Sabbath and originates from Psalm 92.

“With a lot of these, I don’t sit and think about it too much. As I am davening, I will get tunes that come into my head and match.” – Dov Rosenblatt

“With a lot of these, I don’t sit and think about it too much,” he said. “As I am davening, I will get tunes that come into my head and match.”

One song “Refa Nah Lah (Heal)” has personal significance to him. It is a lovely and hopeful song, a prayer which calls for God to heal, but came from a frightful situation.

“A close family friend from L.A. was in a really bad car accident and was in a coma,” he said. “I was struck at how short the prayer was — just five words straight from the heart. Being in that hospital room, begging God from a heartfelt place, that’s how that one came about.”

Rosenblatt said it’s a bit scary to release a solo album, but it is also exciting, and he stands by all his songs.

He noted that a Distant Cousins song, written by Swirsky, has the lyric: “All the things you run from keep running through your heart.” Rosenblatt explained that while he didn’t run from creating a solo album, it was something he knew he would always do.

That song is called “In My Blood” and the ability to sing prayers beautifully is in Rosenblatt’s blood. His grandfather, Rabbi Morris D. Rosenblatt, was the longtime rabbi of Kneseth Israel in Annapolis, Maryland. He would often lead services with a powerful voice, and was also a Navy chaplain, Rosenblatt said, adding that his mother’s father was a hazan in Chicago. 

Swirsky released his soulful song “Anani” recently.

Rosenblatt laughed when asked if there is a rivalry between the two bandmates.

“No, there’s no rivalry,” he said. “We’re great friends and fans of each other and ask for advice.”

Rosenblatt said going from the New York-area to Los Angeles to Nashville, showcases three different speeds.

“From New York to L.A. there was a big exhale, like it’s more chill,” Rosenblatt said. “Now, being in Nashville, nobody is rushing around. Everyone is really present in the moment.”

Of course, Rosenblatt will still have to rush around as he has four children and will also begin performing solo shows, in addition to projects and performances with Distant Cousins, which include scoring a television series.

His voice evokes the gentleness of Elliot Smith and has both vulnerability and power. He said the tracks on this album are slow and introspective. Why did he choose his first solo album to be in Hebrew rather than English?

“I think the way this came about was very organic and is really about me getting back to my roots,” Rosenblatt said.

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