No current tour dates are scheduled. Check back here for future tour information.
The due date for my new book, Let Me Out (Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) is just around the corner. To celebrate, we're going on a national book tour, where I'll be holding conversations about the book with various smart, interesting and good looking individuals, along with playing music, and signing some books.
Much of Peter Himmelman's latest album, "Imperfect World," deals with loss, specifically the death of his sister in an auto accident. At his Club Cafe show last Wednesday, Himmelman transformed the material into an evening of redemptive, muscular rock 'n' roll, with assistance from The Flying Baby, a superlative trio of young Israeli musicians.
A Himmelman show wouldn't be complete without playful and spontaneous interaction with the audience. He sent a fan out to find long blades of grass and used them as one would a shofar, the Hebrew horn, and improvised a song about the "River Duquesne" and how he'd be a turtle and take the audience across on his back.
Dipping into his catalog, Himmelman produced sterling versions of "Flown This Acid World," "Wrapped Up in Cellophane" and "Mission of My Soul." Newer songs held up well in comparison, especially "Loaves of Bread," This Afternoon in the Rain" and "Black Rolled into Black." And just when it seemed the music had peaked, Himmelman and The Flying Baby closed with inspired, emotionally charged versions of "Imperfect World" and "Closer."
-- Regis Behe
Friday, May 13, 2005
Peter Himmelman is a terrific singer-songwriter.
Earnest and passionate, he has a sturdy melodic sense and deeply reflective lyrical bent adept at rooting out the toughest contradictions of everyday life and values. He brings a powerful spiritual conviction to his work, but in a way that provides the courage to confront pain or challenge hypocrisy and the openness to celebrate joy, never in a way that preaches.
He started his career in a 1980s Minnesota rock band called Sussman Lawrence (whose albums have recently been reissued), often tours as a solo folk troubadour, and maintains a day job composing scores for TV shows such as "Chasing Amy," for which he earned a 2002 Emmy nomination. All that versatility comes out in his music, which can be by turns fierce, tender and cinematically detailed. He even makes children's-music albums.
All of which would make him yet another underappreciated singer-songwriter, even if one of the best of them. What really marks Himmelman as special is his concert performances.
He's hilarious, openhearted, spontaneous, unpredictable. Improvising songs from scratch, chatting at length about whatever comes to mind, bringing audience members up to join in, sometimes even leading the crowd on "field trips" to a nearby restaurant or to finish his show by the shore of a lake -- with Himmelman, anything's possible.
Which, come to think of it, is how his songs make you feel.
Folks who think of Peter Himmelman as a mellow folkie who writes introspective songs while strumming an acoustic guitar will only be half surprised here. The introspective lyrics still abound. But there's a definite rock and even blues feel to many of the tunes on his new record. And – surprise, surprise – Peter plays all the electric guitars, sometimes loud, and always right on the money.
Things are a little different right off the bat with “Loaves of Bread.” A cool electric guitar figure sets the feel. Before it's too far in, you might even think of it as blues. Some fine slide dominates “Wet Matches.” a folk-rocker of major proportions. “Consumed” is an actual blues that sounds like it came from someone who's listened to a lot of Chicago blues. Nasty slide and rhythm dominate the tune. It's one that might even surprise the most avid Himmelman fans. By the time we reach”One Minute Longer,” and its Knopfler-esque soloing, you've become quite accustomed to the fact that Peter can do more than strum his acoustic guitar.
Lyrically, some of the songs are obviously fueled by the fact that his younger sister was kiled in a recent car accident. Most obvious is the title cut. In the past, Peter's been referred to as Dylan's son-in-law because of his marriage to Dylan's daughter/ But it's time to call Himmelman what he really is – a fine songwriter and able musician.
CITY PAGES (Mpls.)
A LIST RECOMMENDED EVENT
Perhaps to celebrate the reissuance of his vintage material with Sussman Lawrence, Himmelman has cracked off his most rock-oriented disc in years. Imperfect World showcases his blues-rock electric guitar (especially the lead track, "Loaves of Bread") and contains the sort of trenchant and intimate but still somewhat clinical narratives that have made him an acquired but addictive taste over the decades. Live, he is usually a riveting performer, with intense between-song asides that occasionally reveal his devout Judaism and more occasionally reflect his prevailing mood without any filters. Playing in the Entry back in the early '90s, he became annoyed at First Ave's dance music bleeding through the walls and decamped everybody to the shores of Lake Calhoun to finish the show. Tonight he'll already be outside at the zoo. A sojourn to the primate house is not beyond the realm of possibility. With Vienna Teng. $25. 7:30 p.m.
--Britt Robson SUN JUL 10
CHICAGO DAILY HERALD
Mark Guarino Music critic
Posted Thursday, June 30, 2005
Peter Himmelman with David Singer and The Sweet Science, 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at Schuba's, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. $25. (312) 559-1212.
Peter Himmelman gets so much press for being Bob Dylan's son-in-law, it tends to take away from his 19-year solo career. Although his side gigs are scoring the TV series "Judging Amy" and writing children's music, Himmelman has tended to his cult following with a series of albums best described as spiritually minded popcraft. These two shows celebrate the release of his 11th album, "Imperfect World" (Majestic Recordings).
THE TIMES (Northwest Indiana/Chicago suburbs)
Burst of creativity
Peter Himmelman re-emerges with three CD releases and a film in the works
BY TIM SHELLBERG
This story ran on nwitimes.com on Friday, July 1, 2005 12:26 AM CDT
Those in attendance at Peter Himmelman's shows Tuesday and Wednesday at Schubas may be in for a special post-concert treat.
About a decade ago, when the Minnesota-bred singer-songwriter performed at a venue close to Schubas on Chicago's north side, he took the audience out with him, en masse to a greasy spoon only blocks away from where he played.
"We were at the Chicago Theatre, or the Vic. One of the two, and we went to a place that I think was called the Golden Apple," he said. "It seemed like a pretty far walk, walking with all those people after the show. The people there were surprised."
Performing a pair of 21-and-over shows, Himmelman is, simply put, one of the finest, if not underappreciated, American songwriters of the last two decades.
Often compared to everyone from John Hiatt to Elvis Costello to his father-in-law, Bob Dylan, albums such as 1989's "Synesthesia" and 1994's "Skin" are golden platters to both critics and his die-hard following.
After a near four-year absence from the record store racks, Himmelman has been on something of a tear as of late. Last February, he released his 11th collection of original material, "Unstoppable Forces," and followed that up 10 months later with "My Lemonade Stand," a children's LP.
In April, Himmelman, who resides these days in California, released his latest disc, "Imperfect World." The genesis of the album was created last summer during Tisha B'av, a Jewish fasting day in which he went without food or drink for 25 hours.
Many of the songs on the album, which he described as more of a bluesier effort than any of his previous releases, were inspired by the loss of his sister, who was killed recently in an automobile accident.
"It's not a real reflection (of my sister's death). It's just another mask covering over the pain," he said. "Recently I felt that I hadn't really been dealing with it appropriately. It was another way of covering it up. It's just another Band-Aid for the hurt."
In addition to touring behind "Imperfect," with both his longtime backing band on his current outing and an Israeli band when he plays along the East Coast, Himmelman has been sporadically working on a film. He already has, by his estimation, 110 hours of film in the can, and hopes to have a finished movie on the big screen wrapped up by 2007.
"(It's a story) about the life on the road of a character named Peter Himmelman, and I'm speaking in the third person," he said. "It doesn't so much represent my story, though it's obviously my story being illustrated. And it's not a documentary or a biography. It's sort of the chronicle about a guy who's hit middle age and how he decides to deal with his nagging adolescence."
At press time, tickets remain available for Tuesday's show at Schubas. Wednesday's show is sold out.
Opening both shows for Himmelman is the Chicago-based David Singer & the Sweet Science, whose last effort, "The Stars Burn Out," came out last year.
July 1, 2005
PETER HIMMELMAN BAND
This LA singer-songwriter-guitarist is 45 years old, which I find hard to believe--I mean, hasn't he been around forever? Maybe it's just that he seems to be everywhere: he dabbles in film, TV, and children's music and still finds the energy to make his own records, which are funny, piercing, and have a bone-deep R & B sensibility that's unusual in confessional pop. His latest, Imperfect World (Majestic), uses Hammond organ and spastic, aching guitar to express, among other things, a naked lament for his late sister and a defiant cry to God. David Singer & the Sweet Science open.
__Monica Kendrick __
HOUSTON JEWISH HERALD-VOICE
June 16, 2005
Peter Himmelman: Creating In An Imperfect World
By Aaron Howard
On stage at a typical rock concert, the band re-creates their hits and album favorites, note for note. Then, there's a Peter Himmelman concert where you never know what will happen.
Himmelman pauses after a song to ask the audience for questions. He shares his sharpest memories and deepest feelings with them. The singer-songwriter will often spontaneously improvise lyrics and music to a fan suggestion. Then he'll tear apart the improvisation and fashion a better version. One time Himmelman sat down at the piano and fashioned a tune out of F. Scott Fitzgerald quotes. Another time, he cooked eggs on stage in between songs and asked the audience to monitor the progress until they were ready. Then he served the eggs to his audience. Once, Himmelman led his audience out of the club to a nearby park where he finished off his set.
Himmelman says “I take it as far out as he can get.
“My shows try to create this sense of community. I'm attempting to dispel this existential sense of loneliness just for a moment, even if it doesn't last long.”
Partly because of his live shows, Himmelman has a devout, loyal following (Himmelfans). Other Himmelfans are attracted to the artist's deep Jewish roots: his lyrics and his life are informed by Chassidic philosophy. Himmelman keeps shomer Shabbos-although that does not appear to have adversely affected his musical career.
Other Himmelfans consider him in the upper echelon of contemporary singer-songwriters. Yes, he's got great yichus: he's Bob Dylan's son-in-law (married to Jakob Dylan's older sister, Maria. More to the point: Himmelman defines the popular songwriting craft: the ability to tell a three-minute story in rhyme that clearly goes in a specific direction without a wasted word. Want proof? Check out his tenth CD “Imperfect World” (Majestic/MRI). It's an unlikely -but perfect- fusion of spirituality and carnality.
Himmelman is currently on a 12-city tour promoting “Imperfect World”. Unfortunately, the only Texas tour date is June 23 in Austin at The Cactus Café.
As a long time Himmelfan, interviewing Peter by phone turns out to be as much a spontaneous event as his concerts. Ask a question like “what is your purpose in making music” and Himmelman throws out lines of thought, like a musician exploring riffs he may not fully yet understand until the material takes form and shape.
“At the risk of sounding like I'm fooling you, music is the route I've chosen to make a living,” says Himmelman, “and it colors the outcome. “I'll teach a group of aspiring song writers and tell them one of the greatest ways to actually write a song is to have a paycheck and time limit. A paycheck says 'Peter we like you, we hear you'. A paycheck gives you a sense of freedom from the doubt that plagues every artist- that they're no good. Somewhere in the back of your mind, there are days you feel like you're an imposter. So the paycheck disabuses you of that notion.
“The time makes it concrete. If (a song) has to be made manifest by a date, then the song is going to have to be written. If there's no check, then you have to create these structures yourself.
“There's also a sense of being involved with music that helps to order chaos for me; a sense of making music that connects me somehow to God- reality- I don't know what. From my perspective, that has been formed by Chassidus. Paying the bills can be as spiritual as davening in shul. It may be a form of prayer for me in some way.
“I know that when I write a song and it comes out well, I feel happier. I have an eight-minute ecstasy limit and then it goes back.
“Have you heard my kids' records? They are fantastic and in a lot of ways they are an improvement over the adult records. They don't suffer from this maudlin earnestness. I don't like funny, clever pop songs as a rule and that's why I don't write them. My kids' records are filled with irony, paradox and are very powerful, especially when they are dropped into an adult show. So it's not a quaint sideline. They are every bit as serious as anything else I do.”
“Koreena chasing butterflies. Koreena chasing butterflies. Koreena/ And when she does All the world is beautiful. And when she does. All the world is changed. The clocks are running backwards. The mountain shrunk in size. The stars speak from darkness And the sun has sixty eyes.” (from “Koreena Chasing Butterflies” on Himmelman's “My Fabulous Plum” (Frinny).
Himmelman has written and produced three award-winning children's albums. And he's been nominated for an Emmy for writing music to the television show “Judging Amy”. So, yes, when it comes to songwriting, it doesn't make much difference if he's writing for kids or for adults.
Where are the good new song writers? At a time when so many young song writers are dreadfully intimate in the wrong way, Himmelman can write a song like “Imperfect World” about the death of his sister with a chorus like this:
“In a perfect world/with every stone in its place/In a perfect world/I miss your laugh and your perfect face/There's only one flaw/It's that you're not here”
“It's a song that's observational, describing a scene I know well in Minnesota,” says Himmelman. “It's an idealized moment, a moment I don't really have, a sense of solitude and that's not something that I want too much of. It isn't a cynical statement. It's absolutely almost perfect but slightly imperfect with the loss of this person-in this moment except for that one thought. And it's not a brutal thing for I'm a firm believer in mehiyat ha metim (revival of the dead). So I believe this isn't the last time I will see this person.”
Then there's “Wet Matches”, a song about infidelity:
“With the pull of the moon/I fall into the abyss/The dog inside my soul/Has led me to this/I keep screaming out/It's not my fault/What is the will of man/But a pillar of salt”
“Thank God there haven't been any infidelities in my life,” says Himmelman, “but all breaches are relative. There's a momentary dissolution of the connection and it's purely fiction but it draws on some life experience. Remember, I wrote these songs in a two or three day period. It was Tisha B'Av when I wrote these songs. My son, who is 15 and a fledgling musician, I was leading him and his friend on a song school to show them how it was done. Along the way I accomplished a lot for myself.”
One of the highlights of the current Himmelman tour is that he is being backed up on some dates by an Israeli band, The Flying Baby. About the time of the outbreak of the current Palestinian war against Israel, Himmelman went to Israel to play his music.
“There was this sense that to play there was to support an apartheid state and that moral equivalent drove me insane,” says Himmelman. “So I signed up for that tour. The experience of playing there was moving and powerful. I returned to play there last summer and my promoter asked me did I want to play solo or with a band. He got me these young guys who played in a hard rock band. They got a CD of mine and they learned my music well. We rehearsed in a bomb shelter in a kibbutz outside Netanya. My songs work in a lot of different styles and I don't try to recreate what was on the album. So we played a series of shows that were progressively more moving to me.
“We thought we'd work together at some point in the future and several months ago, one of their reps met with my handlers. It's a difficult time in the music business to tour and there weren't any solid ideas for an Israeli band. So I thought 'why don't we do a tour together'? Maybe there was a press angle to it, something pragmatic. It was one of those few ideas that actually became manifest.”
Himmelman went to Israel on May 23 for five days to play with The Flying Baby. Their Israeli gigs were totally unrehearsed.
And Himmelman says “I'd go to Israel for a day just to sit in a traffic jam and eat a falafel.”
“(Playing in Israel) is colored by my love for the place. In a general way, life for people in Israel is a bit more intense as compared to Los Angeles where the color and shape of your automobile is more important. In Israel, music becomes less of a fashion statement and it becomes perhaps more important if you have something to say and offer as a musician. It seems to me that's its possible for people to listen and take to a different level.
“My shows are far from perfunctory and that's what I try to create. It could be that is has to do with my state of mind. But obviously the religious and historical sense appeals to me as an observant Jew. I'm a huge lover of the Jewish people. So there's no business purpose in going. It's a way to connect with people I haven't seen for a long time.”
PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS
Posted on Fri, Jun. 03, 2005
By JONATHAN TAKIFF
Rock 'n' wry
Tuesday (Jun. 7), showgoers have a difficult choice. The subtly spiritual and ever-philosophical Peter Himmelman , backed by a trio of rock musicians he discovered in Israel, is back at Tin Angel (8:30 p.m., $20). And the feisty Rodney Crowell will be at World Cafe previewing material from his aptly named and absolutely brilliant "The Outsider" album, howling about political shenanigans, rampant greed and ignorance. The Epic-label set's not out till August, but hear it now! (7:30 p.m. $33-$38).
THE CAPITAL TIMES (Madison)
Madison a music mecca
By Rob Thomas
May 25, 2005
Peter Himmelman, Luther's Blues, July 7 : Incredibly, this is Himmelman's first show in town in seven years or so. The other big news of this show is that Marques Bovre will be reuniting with his band the Evil Twins to open the show.
Peter Himmelman: Imperfect World
Peter Himmelman is one of those singer-songwriters who, despite having released several albums for the majors (including Island and Columbia), has never really scored much in the way of mainstream popularity, leaving him trapped in that most dreaded of niches: “cult hero.” If Imperfect World is a harder, more bluesy album that most have come to expect from Himmelman (B.B. King needs to record “Consumed” sooner than later), well, he's got a reason to sing the blues; his younger sister died in a car crash not long ago, and this album was undoubtedly a cathartic one, given the lyrics of such songs as “Kneel Down” (“We don't run in the house of God / We only crawl”) and the reggae-inspired “Take It Easy On Me.” Himmelman's faith – Judaism – is one he's never been afraid to wear on his sleeve and, with that to rely on, Imperfect World isn't nearly as melancholy as one might expect; this is an album about, as Himmelman himself has said, his “changing perceptions” in the wake of his sister's death. Lyrically, he's at the top of his game and, creatively, he shows no signs of flagging anytime soon. ~Will Harris (05/27/05)
Himmelman should be a household name
By John Cody
"I HAVE the biggest ego of anybody you've ever met. And I want to state that for the record." Peter Himmelman is on the phone, claiming a trait far removed from your standard entertainment industry boast. For Himmelman, one of the most self-aware artists recording today, it's entirely in keeping with his ruthless pursuit of the truth.
In a just world he'd be a household name. He's released over a dozen critically acclaimed albums, maintains a concurrent career as a popular children's entertainer, and as a composer he's received an Emmy award nomination for his work on the TV series Judging Amy.
The list of accomplishments might be impressive - but it all takes back seat to his faith. In accordance to Jewish law, he refuses to work on the Sabbath (from Friday sundown to Saturday evening) - a practice that has resulted in countless missed career opportunities, and may in large part explain why he's still a fringe artist. His songs cut to the heart of faith and the pursuit of God. His newest album was composed entirely during a 25 hour religious holiday of fasting. It's too convenient to label him an enigma and leave it at that. Closer to the truth would be a man who takes his faith seriously.
It's a telling irony that a Chassidic Jew addresses issues of faith boldly, in a way that puts much of what is released in the Contemporary Christian Music scene to shame.
Steve Stockman, a Presbyterian Chaplain and author of Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2, and The Rock Cries Out: Discovering Eternal Truth in Unlikely Places, has described Himmelman's music as almost transcendent: "It is the spiritual vigor of his writing that sets him apart. He wraps his earthy vocal around clever poetry that reports back from the war weary frontline of all the world's ills and then tops and tails it with heavenly insight."
Himmelman was unaware - and pleasantly surprised - to learn he has a following in the Christian community, acknowledging that "there are certainly a lot of shared values." How would he like his beliefs described in a Christian publication? "I don't really know what the audience knows (about me). I'm an observant Jew who keeps the Sabbath, and keeps kosher. My life is very structured in that way. Ideally I put God before everything that I do. I say ideally because - well, that is an ideal. It's something that I strive for - continuity with the Jewish people, and Israel. There's a very strict moral code which I try to abide by. In some ways, ironically, I think it's that structure - that obedience to the structure that allows me to be as free as I am on stage."
He cites as an example, a recent trip to Israel: "There's these young secular Israeli guys, with tattoos and nipple rings and all that stuff, and I come on there, and they're pretty much in disbelief asking 'How can this guy be so structured in one part of his life, and so utterly untethered onstage?' And some of that might just be that I proceed from a certain axiom or framework that's almost like a lifeline that lets me stretch way, way out - drugs or wild hedonism to me is more of a boring ritual than a statement of freedom or independence. Having experienced part of that myself, it's not a very revolutionary mode of operation."
As a man of faith, he's not impressed with 'watered down' religions, especially the current popularity of Kabbalah, as endorsed by celebrities like Madonna, Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears. "It's like trying to become Jascha Heifetz (greatest violinist of the 20th century) in a week. It's an absolute joke. Trying to have utter mastery of an instrument without even learning how to open the case - it's impossible, it's a sham, and it's ridiculous. I'm sure everybody's having a lot of fun, but it has nothing to do with Kabbalah. If a kid can turn on a transistor radio, and make music, in some sense he is making music, but you know what I'm saying."
Just as Christians are often portrayed in a negative light by the media - as reactionary, ignorant and quick to judge, Himmelman agrees there's a corresponding problem with how the Jewish faith is represented. "We were talking about movies and film - the people who are in those things usually lead pretty wild and hedonistic life-styles. And just like everyone else, there's a certain agenda to promote that - and anybody that has a God-fearing perspective is somehow anachronistic or certainly the whole thing's outmoded and certainly could never teach anybody about freedom of expression because they're painted as narrow-minded.
It all works - everybody has an agenda. Somebody at a rock concert will go 'George Bush sucks' and everyone automatically screams and loves it - they'll make some kind of comment about any number of left-wing causes, and immediately the whole place is alight with delight and praise. And to me it's just all sorts of dogma on all sides. At least if I have dogma I'll call it exactly what it is. I'm not going to call it some sort of posturing for freedom."
Regardless of the size of his ego, there's a sense of humility in Himmelman's songs that is all too rare in popular culture; "I think I have a certain cognitive of being in possession of a rare gift...Ideally, and I keep using that word ideally just so you won't thing I'm trying to promote myself as someone who's arrived at some place - I mean, I'm just a struggling clown - but ideally there is a sense of duty that is bound up with that idea of talent, that gift. Certainly if there is a gift there's a giver, and the giver is God."
Himmelman grew up in a nominally Jewish home; "We identified strongly with being Jewish, but our knowledge of all the laws and things was pretty limited." After moving to New York, a music business acquaintance, Kenny Vance, once of the doo-wop group Jay & the Americans, helped steer him to a deeper level of faith in 1985; "He introduced me to a Rabbi in Crown Heights in Brooklyn. He said 'I know Woody Allen, I know Diane Keaton, but tonight I'm going to take you to my main connection." That night he met Rabbi Simon Jacobson, who would have a profound effect on Peter's journey back to Judaism.
Beyond Dogma, subtitled What Do Two Chassidic Rabbis have to say to a Modern World - A Dialogue with the Jacobson Brothers, Simon and Yosef Yitzchak, and Peter Himmelman, is a fascinating double disc set released this year through the Meaningful Life Center. http://www.meaningfullife.com/ It's two hours of Himmelman and the brothers discussing the Jewish faith for those outside of the faith. He poses hard questions, including "do you ever doubt God's existence" - (Yes, everyday) and asks, "Do you suppose that God cries" in relating to his sister's recent death in a car accident.
Some have called the music industry a spiritually dangerous environment. In an upcoming interview Country Rock legend Chris Hillman (Byrds/Flying Burrito Brothers/Desert Rose Band) told CanadianChristianty.com that he considers it to be the 'Devil's playground.' Himmelman disagrees; "For me music is something I love to do. Like any other business it has it's challenges. I could imagine that teaching at a university is the Devil's playground, too. It all depends on your perspective. Without disregarding the obvious pitfalls of the rock business, a guy that's a traveling salesman would have the same temptations."
On Beyond Dogma he admits that when he started out the music business was like a god to him. "It had a powerful pull on a young kid. That was where my head was totally at. Music is still super important to me." Music or music business success? "All of it. I enjoy making music. And I know that if people don't listen to it and aren't familiar with it then I'm not going to be able to continue making it. You have to think about the business part of it, too. Thank God I've been able to pull it off pretty well.
This year alone there are five releases - three albums of new material, and two anthologies. His latest album, Imperfect World is as powerful as anything he's ever done. Pristine is the fourth release from the ongoing Himmelvaults collection, with collects previously unreleased material. His fourth children's disc is slated for later this year. This month his first ever career retrospective, Mission of My Soul - the Best of Peter Himmelman (Shout Factory September 6) will be released. The disc samples 19 tracks from all eleven of his official solo albums, and is an excellent introduction to his formidable catalogue. Himmelman was involved in choosing the songs and writing the liner notes. The Complete Sussman Lawrence (1979-1985) is a double disc set that collects everything by the band he led immediately prior to going solo.
Growing up in Minneapolis, Himmelman played funk, reggae and rock, and assimilated seemingly everything he was exposed to. A live medley of 70's hits released on a promo single a few years back attests to this fact, with rapid fire covers of everything from Black Sabbath to the Carpenters. While still in high school Peter and his cousin were the only white members in an early incarnation of R & B legend Alexander O'Neal's band. He then played Caribbean and reggae with Shangoya, a popular local act, before assembling his longest running group, Sussman Lawrence, who built a significant following throughout the region before relocating to New York. He wrote all the material, and while there are hints of the introspective work to come - and a few exceptional songs - the band leaned toward a new wave sound, closer in approach to Elvis Costello or Joe Jackson. While totally appropriate for the era, much of the material sounds dated today. His first solo release, 1985's This Fathers' Day was a huge leap in quality. Himmelman kept all of the Sussman Lawrence players, but they now went under his name. Songs like 'Eleventh Confession,' 'The Jokes On You' and 'Tremble' made it obvious he was a major talent. The title track was a standout. Written and recorded in the early morning after arriving home from a late night gig on the eve of Father's day, it was written as a gift to his father, who was dying of cancer. One of the most moving songs of love from a son to his father, the song was only ever performed once for the tape, which his dad carried with him until he died. The album was released on a small independent label, and picked up the next year by Island Records, who would release his next two albums, Gematria (1987) and Synesthesia (1989). While they garnered strong reviews, sales were not as hoped for, and he moved to Epic Records for 1991's From Strength To Strength which was a tour de force, easily his strongest material yet. The following year brought the equally impressive Flown This Acid World.
His 1994 release Skin was a concept album concerning the reincarnation of a rather unlikable individual. Asked if he subscribes to that particular belief, Himmelman told Canadian Christianity "It's not my belief, it's actually a very central part of normative Jewish belief. Not that anyone really knows anything about it or how it works. I guess you could consider it a central tenant. It is my belief but I can't say that I could tell you anything about it. These things are beyond the reach of normal mortal minds. There is something in Judaism that's very fundamental. It's called 'revival of the dead', that's so central to the belief that it's in the prayers three times a day. So it kind of tends to inform my thinking."
Terry Mattingly writes the syndicated column, 'On Religion' which appears in 350 newspapers. He states: "There's a directness in the religious language of Strength to Strength, which by the time you get to Skin, has pretty radically changed. And a lot of people that were very attracted to Strength to Strength kinda freaked out (because of the reincarnation) I realized to some degree he's going deeper into some forms of Jewish mysticism but he lost his connection to that audience because the language and imagery changed. It went from a kind of hunger for God, search for God, and this fascinating kind of Messiah - of course it's a Jewish concept of Messiah, or I should say a Jewish acceptable concept of Messiah - Christians of course would argue that their concept of Messiah is a Jewish concept as well, but you can debate that all day long. The key was a hunger for an apocalyptic vision. That fascinated Christian listeners. It was in language that they could understand."
While the theme of Skin may have been problematic for some Christian listeners, it was only one album. Even so, Mattingly argues Himmelman lost many Christian listeners; "I'm not sure they came back. You lost a connection." Mattlingly admits that until last month he hadn't heard any new Himmelman material since Skin. Upon hearing a recent children's album he was impressed; "That sounded to be much more of a return to a style that the Christian audience that was intrigued with him would have appreciated."
Nama Frenkel, a publicist with expertise in 'cross-over' religion books worked as Peter's publicist between 1991 and 1994. She had no experience in the music industry, but felt that his music could appeal to a far wider range of people than the record companies were used to dealing with. She maintains Epic decided against resigning him after too many missed opportunities due to his refusal to play Friday nights. He had been offered the Tonight Show four times, refusing on every occasion until they found a weeknight spot he would play. "It ended his record career for awhile. Fortunately he started getting the TV work and film work. What he found, is that if you keep your eye on God, and your eye on your responsibilities as a person, then the music will follow."
Stage Diving was released two years later on the independent Plumb label. Documenting Himmelman solo at the Bottom Line in New York City, it gives the listener a taste of what can happen at a live show. One of the most entertaining musicians performing today, to miss him live is to only get half the story. Like jazz players, there's a great deal of improvisation during each performance. "First of all, I don't go to many shows, and I don't find that form all that entertaining. I find that whole concert thing to be so highly dogmatic - so ritualized. Very, very seldom do I enjoy it. By the same token, I don't really have that many preconceptions of what can and can't be done."
Anything can happen at a show. He's been known to lead audiences en masse to new locations. The first time he performed at Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival he had fifteen audience members on stage dancing and drumming before the first number was over. "I don't know what's going to happen. The person that likes the shows the best, is me. It might sound like an egomaniac, but in a way, I really do it for myself. I keep myself amused and entertained." And if he can't connect with an audience? "You know, it always works. I never have faith that it's going to work, but in fact, it always does. I'm like a pilot, he never flies with an assumption of anything else, and historically, obviously he's alive, and it's always worked."
Songs are composed and performed on the spot. The quality is such that someone unaware might think these were already written, but it's hardly the case. "Obviously I'm using chords. I'm using words from the English language. There's a certain control there. It's a craft. The only thing I have going that (others may not) have, is that I've done it so many times, and I've also failed doing it, and the failure isn't so painful." And the failure can be turned around; "The failure just isn't that bad. It's not brutal. And consequently, I don't fail that much, because I realize that the pain isn't so severe, there's nothing much to get nervous about. And those things for me are sort of a context for my other songs that were pre-written. I think that without that, the shows get a little too self serious and maudlin. And without the songs it would be veering off into some crazy, nebulous world. One keeps the other aloft, the other keeps the other grounded."
His first children's album, My Best Friend is a Salamander was issued in 1997. Since then he's released My Fabulous Plum (2000) and My Lemonade Stand (2004). My Green Kite is finished and awaiting release.
"I think that may be the real big frontier for me. There's something about them that's so liberating for me. Some of my best work is in those kid's records. And I don't look at them as some sort of little glib offering. They're very nuanced, and very musical. I'm very proud of them - most proud of any of my music." He's very conscious when writing whether it's for the kids or his peers. "It comes from two different places. I can't really describe how I do it, but for every time I sit down and write I always follow a very objective - this is kinda why I'm doing this. I'm writing for a new record, or I'm writing because someone is paying me or I'm writing to show off for somebody. I don't most days just write. Sometimes I write because I just want to be on a schedule of writing. A lot of times like now I'm refraining from writing because I have a lot of stuff gestating and I don't want it to come out yet. I'll know when it's ready."
Years before the Children' s albums, Peter had composed music for Spinoza Bear, www.spinozabear.com a large stuffed teddy bear with a tape deck hidden inside. It's used to help children deal with difficult circumstances, including terminal disease, trauma, and the death of a loved one. The toy was created by child psychologists and hospice professionals, and Peter performed all the music and narration. In many instances parents have claimed their child had not responded to anything except the bear.
In 1998 he was back with Island Records through their Six Degrees imprint for Love Thinketh No Evil. A typically strong outing, it was his last release of new material for a few years. He began to focus on composing for film and television, and in 1999 was hired to write music for the hit TV series Judging Amy. He scored an Emmy nomination for his work, and stayed with the show throughout it's six season run. Judging Amy ceased production this year, and Himmelman is now scoring for the Fox series Bones, which premieres this month on the 13th.
Is the TV work enjoyable in and of itself? "Yeah. I'm glad you asked. It's enjoyable like puzzle solving. Very much like gardening or ordering chaos. And it's very lucrative. So you have that incentive. And you use your musical chops to create these little puzzles, and to complete them. It's not on the level of being on stage and having these improvised moments, or writing a song that's deep enough to make me cry, but it's very, very enjoyable."
After a six year break, last year saw a return to new material with Unstoppable Forces, which came with a bonus disc of Himmelvaults Vol 3, together offering over 90 minutes of new or previously unreleased music. It was another typically strong outing, with powerful new songs like 'The Deepest Part' and 'Discipline of Rain.'
His latest album, Imperfect World was written on a religious holiday. "I wrote the record on a holiday called Tishah b'Ab which may be of interest to you from a Christian faith. It's a holiday mourning the destruction of the holy temple. Both the first and the second and also the start of the inquisition, the start of the crusades. Things happened in Nazi Germany on that day. It's a holiday of mourning. One of the things you do is fast - you refrain from food and water for 25 hours. Last year I had just gotten back from Israel which I always find really inspiring, I just felt like all these songs were pouring out. I just started writing them one every two hours. Most of them that day, a few more the next day. Most of them were really good." The album is harder-edged than earlier efforts, with Himmelman shining on guitar. As always, the songs reflect his faith, and the day-to-day travails of balancing the secular with the eternal.
Stray tracks occasionally end up in a series called The Himmelvaults. Now on the fourth volume, they might not have made the official albums, but are every bit as strong as what makes it onto the 'proper' releases. Other songs leak out through fans or on his web site. A song left off of the new album 'The Curse Comes Down' is a powerful read on the historical plight of the Jews, with the chorus 'And who are you to teach us morals/you with your hands dripping blood/ Don't interfere with our survival/The curse comes down with a thud." It's a stunning piece, but according to comments on the website, "I yanked (it) at the last minute. A little too strident I thought."
In addition to the huge volume of work he's created, anyone can add to the Himmelman catalogue by ordering a 'Song Portrait' through his website http://www.peterhimmelman.com/. You can purchase "a personal song created specifically for you, a loved one, a co-worker, or bitter enemy." Available with or without band accompaniment, these are well-crafted efforts that he takes pride in doing properly, right down to Cd artwork. Examples are available online, and are, as with all his work, quite moving; "They're very powerful. When people get them, they go crazy."
His fans - 'Himmelheads' - try to spread the word.
Ellen Berman feels a kinship; "When I first read Peter's lyrics, I realized that like me, he was interested in the big questions -- both from a philosophical and Jewish perspective. This was an idea I had been thinking about for a very long time and had never put into words, and yet suddenly I was reading these thoughts in Peter's lyrics. I felt an instant connection with Peter and fell in love with the music." Later she heard him performing material from Flown This Acid World on a live radio broadcast: "on a whole different album, I found myself completely connected with Peter once again..." Inspired, she created a member site on AOL for fans who participated on the Himmelmaniac message board. A year later she started the official fan site. http://himmelfans.org. "I've been listening to Peter Himmelman's music for 17+ years, and I re-affirm my commitment to him and his music with every album because he consistently writes songs that matter and capture my attention on various levels: musically, philosophically, and spiritually." She's seen Peter perform live thirty five times, and claims each show has been completely unique.
Tom Mullen is longtime fan who's never been to a Himmelman performance. Based in Florida, he's amassed an impressive collection of outtakes, rarities and live shows, and happily sent this writer over 30 Cds and DVDs to make sure I got the whole picture.
While the quality of his releases remains consistent, airplay has diminished in the last few years. He's no longer on a major record label, and the Triple A radio format - popular in the nineties, and a strong supporter - is dying out. Never a huge star to begin with, today Peter feels fortunate to still be able to draw a crowd, however modest. "I'm lucky to be hanging on." In addition, his audiences are getting older - "it's the same group of people. It kinda bothers me, not that I mind those people at all. It's kinda sad, because I think young kids would really dig it - and they do when they come to the show. I don't really know how to deal with it. But it does bother me. It's something I've thought about on this last tour."
He's tough to sell. "It's a marketing problem - I mean, I'm a marketing problem. You know, what am I gonna do change?" What he does can't be put down to a simple sentence, and when they do, all too often writers focus on the fact that he's Bob Dylan's son-in-law. While that's a fascinating bit of trivia - and Peter does a dynamite impersonation of his father-in-law - it does a great disservice to his talent to focus on that fact alone. Himmelman once responded to a query regarding influence; "I am a folk musician. I am on planet Earth. I have been influenced by Dylan." Simply put, Bob Dylan has influenced every contemporary folk musician working today. Peter just happened to marry his daughter. Appearing on Late Night With David Letterman a few years back, he was asked about the Dylan connection, and responded "You're into top ten lists. If you can name the Ten Commandments, I'll answer that question." Letterman couldn't, and the interview was cut from the show's subsequent broadcast.
Managers couldn't really help, either; "I was the most difficult guy in the world to manage. I mean, some guys are hard to manage because they're on drugs. I'm a guy, for better or worse, with a vision I think that supercedes marketing. I'm trying to speak objectively here, and it's not necessarily favorable, certainly in terms of the rock industry, but I do consider myself pretty unique. I don't know of a lot of parallels, and it doesn't fit in any easy slotting I don't know what they saw me as, like a Jackson Browne kind of guy, even (my) musical style is all over the place. It is what it is. If I could change it, if I could get a hit, maybe if Britney Spears covers one of my tunes I'd do it in a second." "I never had any pressure to conform image wise, or record wise. It's kind of interesting, maybe to my detriment, but people signed me because they liked what I did. Certain things - I don't play on the Sabbath and all that - that couldn't have helped the marketing scheme, but I never really got any pressure. I stayed with the major labels for ten years, which is really long." "I think of myself more in terms of a person with a certain story to tell, and the music is supportive of that. As opposed to a guy who's got a string of hits, and goes on the road and gets high. I kind of created this person that I would be interested in...had his own vision, did his own thing, and a lot of the stuff worked, some of it sucked. He's on stage, and at least I set up a place where there's a potential for brilliance. I look at myself almost like a jazz musician - certainly not in terms of the music, because I don't play jazz. But in terms of the ethos, there's a structure, that's pretty highly defined. Maybe the structure is my ideological outlook. My faith in God. My sense that divine providence and human will work together in this strange way, and that kind of is the underpinnings of everything that I do. And that's a structure. And that hopefully remains extremely oblique. That's what underlies everything. Sometimes it's music, sometimes it's kid's music. Sometimes it's stories. It's very difficult to market that stuff."
For all of his seriousness, Himmelman is one of the funniest people on stage. His humor can be sharp - if deserved. During a recent show he compared the stress factor in dealing with rude drivers to dealing with self-professed super-evolved 'spiritual' people. Deciding that an obscenity spewing motorist is less offensive - he quipped "f--- off . . . and I say that as a God fearing man" to the 'spiritual guy.' Centuries ago, Aristotle said that tragedy portrays human beings as better than they really are, and comedy as worse. We strive for the nobility of the characters in the tragedy, but all to often resemble more closely those in the comedy. One school of thought argued that comedy was among the most moral of art forms, as it ridicules vice, causing the audience to look down upon bad behavior. Himmelman, asked to list who inspires him, included rappers: "I like Nas. Tupac. I love Eminem." Eminem? "Maybe just his sense of humor. I see Eminem the same way I used to see Andrew Dice Clay. Strangely moralistic. He's looked at as this purveyor of pure evil and decadence. I see him as portraying this absurdist character. Painting a caricature of the ills of society, because it's so over the top. In a sense almost a cautionary tale, a reverse moralist." For the record, he also mentioned novelists Saul Bellow and John Steinbeck as inspirations. Musically; "I like Bob Marley. I like what I think I know of Jimi Hendrix."
Publicist Frenkel has continued to work sporadically with Peter over the years, arranging kosher food and Shabbos accommodations (homes that honor the Jewish Sabbath) when he's on tour. She describes a typical backstage scenario; "When Pete plays on the East Coast, the minute he goes off stage he gets on his cell phone to say goodnight to his kids. That is the ritual. You see Pete in the dressing room, and people are standing around waiting to talk to him, but he has to first call home and you hear this extensive discussion with the three year old - 'You did what? Oh! You made on the toilet? Yeah! Did you do your homework?' He has four kids and his wife, and before he'll see the fans or talk to a reporter, because of the time difference, he has a chance to talk with the kids before they go to bed. And you cannot get near him until he calls home. You have the New York Times waiting around, and it's like 'I'll be right with you soon as I say goodnight to my three-year-old and ask him if he made on the toilet.'
"You go to a Pete concert and there in the corner standing a little bit away from the women is a guy with a white shirt and a long black coat, and standing three feet away is a woman wearing braids and Birkenstocks, and her kid is with her, and her husband has longer hair than her, and standing next to them is a very nice Christian family that you can see are church people, and standing next to them is an African American with an afro groovin' to the reggae, and next to them is a Japanese family. And they're all cool.
"If I had to make a title for what the Pete Himmelman business is, I would say Reclaiming Goodness. [National Jewish Book Award winner exploring the connection between education and spiritual issues].And it isn't an ethnic goodness, although he is proud of his ethnicity, it's your tribe, it's your family. But nobody's better than anybody else. Decency rules. It's a very good way of meeting the challenges of modernity. And why I think he has such an appeal, that paradoxically, you wouldn't think a fundamentalist Christian and a new age person who believes herself the center of the universe, it's hard to picture those people agreeing. Then you put an orthodox Jew in there with a big black hat and you wonder what on earth are these people doing in the same room."
Balancing family and career is an ongoing struggle; "I just got of the road after two weeks. It's very difficult. I don't have a balance. I'd like to say 'yea, I got it all figured out.' But I don't." It's something he continues to struggle with; "Yes. There are little challenges. I haven't been out on the road for two weeks straight in years. It's very painful for me. I'm constantly asking myself 'What am I doing here' I went to Israel - as you might have read - and what am I doing in this sweaty rehearsal hall filled with smoke and they're smoking pot. I'm jet-lagged - 'What am I doing this for?' And I don't really have an answer. The only thing I can say is I'm trying to fill my story tank. It runs a little bit dry after six years of a TV show."
What makes Peter Himmelman so likeable - as an artist and a person - is a bold willingness to expose his self consciousness. Awareness of his shortcomings make the journey that much more easy for the listener to relate to.
"The person that I am on stage - because now I'm talking to you - I'm like almost on stage. So you have a stagey guy talking to you right now. But the normal person at home is a little bit dull and shy. Speaking of myself in the third person, at the risk of sounding psychotic."
PHILADELPHIA CITY PAPER
Between releasing children's albums and scoring TV shows, Peter Himmelman had gotten away from the somber themes he'd explored in his 1986 solo debut, This Father's Day . His latest CD gains back the weight. Partly inspired by his sister's death, the bluesy Imperfect World (Majestic Recordings) is spiritual and spirited, angry but not angsty. This one's for the grownups.
PITTSBURGH CITY PAPER
May 26, 2005
Tuesday the 31st
Peter Himmelman: He's been called “one of rock's most imaginative performers,” his father-in-law is none other
than Bob Dylan himself, and tonight he plays the early show at Club Cafe. He also has a day job scoring network television dramas, and even composes children's music on the side, but it's unlikely you'd guess any of that after a spin through Imperfect World, Himmelman's latest release of stripped-down roots rock and stinging Delta blues. He's also known as something of a ringer on the solo acoustic circuit, but tonight, expect to see Himmelman fronting The Flying Baby, a three-piece Israeli rock group which will be joining the current tour on four specially selected dates only. Lucky us!
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE REVIEW
Songwriter straddles the line between sacred, profane
By Regis Behe
Thursday, May 26, 2005
In the 1950s, Elvis Presley was accused of performing music that was inspired by the devil. Musician Peter Himmelman agrees rock 'n' roll is far from sacred.
"Elvis was the devil's music," he says, referring to Presley's infamous gyrations. "What else can you call it?"
Himmelman performs Wednesday with Israeli band The Flying Baby at Club Cafe.
"It's as salacious as it gets, as carnal as it comes. Doesn't erase it for me. I happen to like it, and I know exactly what it is. It's not a joke, and there is a profaneness to it."
Few mix the sacred with the profane as well as Himmelman. Like his fellow native Minnesotan, Bob Dylan, Himmelman brings a distinct spirituality to his music. In albums including "Flown This Acid World," "Love Thinketh No Evil" and his most recent, "Imperfect World." He straddles the divide between good and evil, heaven and hell or humanity and spirituality.
For Himmelman the dichotomy is as natural as the difference between being awake and sleeping.
"Somebody who says 'I'm an atheist,' who says 'I have nothing to do with God, I'm a rationalist,' I don't know if that rings true, in the same way that somebody says 'I'm a saintly pious person, I'm always thinking about the divine,'" Himmelman says. "Give me a break; no, you're not. You're a man, you're a woman. We are struggling with that duality, and to me it just seems like the most natural thing in the world."
That duality extends to Himmelman's music. In addition to his rock albums, he has recorded children's records and composes the music for the television show "Judging Amy." He's also known for inspired and offbeat live shows, improvising songs on the spot and at least once cooking eggs onstage.
But before a concert, Himmelman is a reluctant artist.
"The last thing I want to do is get up onstage," he says. "I'd much rather be eating Groovy Grahams... I'd rather be reading a book or petting my dog."
The transformation starts when Himmelman walks onstage. Only gradually does he become Peter Himmelman, rock musician.
"The guy onstage is way more confident than I am," he says. "Not to get too 'Sybil' about it, but we all have many facets. And that one is dependent on a crowd to unleash that facet. It can be one person, but when that facet comes out, I find it really fun. I think he's hilarious."
Himmelman experienced a transformation of a different type a few years ago when he was enlisted by guitarist Steve Hancoff to perform in Israel. It was a dangerous time with terrorist attacks making the situation particularly dicey, but Himmelman embraced the opportunity.
"It was a great and powerful experience to play for people who are extremely appreciative," he says. "I was somehow enlarged by the experience more than anyone else was. As it often happens, when you set out to do something for somebody usually it turns out they do way more for you than you do for them."
Last summer, Himmelman's Israeli promoter found a band, The Flying Baby, to back him for a few shows. After rehearsing at a bomb shelter at a kibbutz, the band proceeded to surpass Himmelman's expectations at live shows. After a concert in which the music went "beyond the ordinary," one of the The Flying Baby's invited him to go to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
Again, the sacred and profane in Himmelman's life collided.
"It's my favorite place on Earth in a way," he says. "It's a difficult place, but it's a place where I get all my layers -- and I'm mostly layers, just a lot of hot air and wild ideas -- stripped away. Everything gets stripped away at the Wall. It's difficult. But it's wonderful too, to become like an infant again."
In Peter Himmelman's Imperfect World, things are all wrong – and that's all right. The veteran singer/songwriter's 11th full-length (not including three children's recordings returns to the electric guitar-driven formula of 1998's Love Thinketh No Evil, featuring blues- and pop-based narrative of would-a-beens and should-a-beens seeking redemption against the odds. Unlike many singer/songwriters, however, Himmelman's work offers solace by suggesting there is order, albeit inexplicable order, in our flawed world. “the world is a magnet, and I';m just a piece of steel,” Himmelman sings without rancor on “Wet Matches.” These songs won't change your life, but their heartfelt delivery makes this Imperfect World a lot easier to live with.
NEW YORK PRESS
Robbie and the Rabbi
By J.R. Taylor
Robbie Fulks has to wait a while before he can answer a question; that's because he's looking for the gate for the plane back to Chicago. He does that a lot. Despite taking a break between 2001's Couples in Trouble and this year's Georgia Hard , Fulks has kept busy touring and showing up on the occasional tribute album. He didn't have to worry about some other Robbie Fulks making the scene. Among the hipster-country masses, Fulks is unique in his dedication to pushing the limits of his songwriting and musicianship.
This has resulted in Fulks going from alt-country to roots-rocker and back again in the past decade - while cramming in plenty of misadventures in the recording industry. Along the way, Fulks has become grandly unpredictable. The songs on Georgia Hard range from good humor worthy of Roger Miller to gorgeous goth-folksiness worthy of all those anonymous dead minstrels who got ripped off by Nick Cave.
"If I had a niche or a market," Fulks notes, "I might stick to it. I've had some incentive to do the same thing twice, but I've always enjoyed singers who don't do that. My first record was an explicit manifesto. If I was going to add anything to country music when I stepped into the fray, it had to be in my own voice, and not pretending to be a Bible-thumper, or anything else that I wasn't."
These past few years weren't a time for reflection, though. Georgia Hard isn't any more calculated than any Fulks album that's come before - although his voice has certainly grown into a perfect country pitch. The material is the typically broad brush that Fulks has relied upon to keep any album from settling into thematic mire.
Fulks wasn't laboring over what could be counted as a comeback, either. "I always write for the record I'm going to make," he explains. "There's no pressure at all. I just sit and write. After spending a week writing a countrypolitan song, then I'm ready to write a murder ballad. It's a matter of making things up for my pleasure."
Which brings us to Fulks' impressive refusal to ever package himself as another tortured troubadour. "My songs aren't direct expression," he notes. "They're not venting. I'm not trying to get some kind of evil beast out of me. I guess everybody's got murder and suicide and despair in them, but I try not to exploit that in a song. I'm as dark as anybody - but not when talking on the phone to a stranger."
If Georgia is Hard , the world's Imperfect : whereas Fulks is a protean Puritan, a musical shape-shifter whose only consistency lies in the quality and discipline as opposed to the style and sheen of his material, Peter Himmelman's music has been more hit and miss.
But Imperfect World is Himmelman's first great record since his days fronting Sussman Lawrence (whose complete works, incidentally, were recently reissued on CD). Of course, that "great" distinction doesn't necessarily include Himmelman's work as a Raffi-like kiddie singer - which mandates an additional 11 a.m. show as part of his upcoming Knitting Factory appearance.
Maybe that sideline is where Himmelman got the happy temperament to handle a backhanded compliment. Imperfect World is full of impressively grand twangy rock. It's a nice change from a solo career with randomly great moments - and others where Himmelman has been emotive, or puerile-sentimental, to a fault.
"I don't know about that," Himmelman replies, "but this record was created to not go into that direction. If I have an electric guitar in hand, it causes a different kind of song to occur. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't tapping into too many maudlin and earnest thoughts. Another big difference is that I didn't hire another guy to play guitar. A lot of guys can play guitar a lot slicker than I do."
That explains Himmelman's backing band, the Flying Baby, an Israeli rock band that might even share Himmelman's faith as an Orthodox Jew. This guy isn't some Keystone Kabbalah follower, though. Himmelman's inaccessible on the Sabbath, and won't get caught enjoying a cheeseburger. That's not exactly a selling point in a pop-culture world that's spent four years mocking John Ashcroft's religion.
"I'm so insulated in my community and my family," he notes, "that it's hard to say if that's been a problem for me. I'd imagine that my whole life paradigm differs a great deal from what I consider the cult-like lemmings of popular culture. It would be more of a compliment if I did encounter a problem. Someday, if people discover me more, we can engage in a dialogue."
Volume 18, Issue 22
Imperfect World (Majestic Recordings)
One can beg the “son of Dylan” cliché with Peter Himmelman, as he is Bob the Bard's son-in-law. And the comparison is apt, since his 11th release resonates with poetics, mysticism, wisdom and wit, and kick-ass power folk. His day gig may be scoring Judging Amy with a sideline making kids music, but this is serious stuff. With his slash'n'sear electric guitar at the front of a punch'n'jab rock combo, he ponders existence and loss on the title track, fealty to the big dude up above on “Kneel Down” and the little things in life on the Tom Petty-ish “This Afternoon in the Rain.” Later Himmelman travels from snaky Delta blues (“Consumed”) to skanking reggae (“Take it Easy on Me”). On this near-perfect CD, Peter Himmelman rates right up there with Bob, Bruce, Elvis C., Warren Z. and the rest of the masters of smart rocking songcraft.
WILLAMETTE WEEK (Portland, OR)
Music listings for the week of Wednesday, May 11 thru Tuesday, May 17
BY MARK BAUMGARTEN, DAVID CLIFFORD, KIM COLTON, JOHN GRAHAM, JAY HORTON, KAI HSING, ADINA LEPP, ALEX VALDIVIESO, MASON H. WEST AND MATT WRIGHT
WW PICK: Peter Himmelman, Nicole Sangsuree
The irrepressible Himmelman usually alternates solo visits (like last summer's Aladdin performance) and band shows. Amazingly, the latter can be just as wild, spontaneous and unpredictable as the former. Tonight's touring outfit includes Willie Aron (former guitarist for ahead-of-their-time '80s nu-folkers the Balancing Act), and Himmelman's longtime rhythmic accomplices Al Wolovitch and Andy Kamman, who will be ready to turn on a dime and follow their leader into the outer stratosphere as necessary. (JR)
FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM
Peter Himmelman, Imperfect World Majestic Recordings:
The songs on this Minnesota folkie's 13th CD are catchy in a sometimes downer kind of way. That's because they were written after the death of his younger sister in a car accident; the standouts address his grief most directly. On the title tune, the precise description of the street scene after the wreck, where "loons cry on the lake in the mists," he finds a place to address her absence, with a wash of guitar after. Occasionally, and only occasionally, either the reverb or the anguish turn the words into a mumble when his point seems most important. The understatedness might not have been so overstated. But the world's not perfect.