From Jewsweek, downloaded June 13, 2003

Schlock and roll
Ira Scott Levin is graduating from kiddie clown to serious Jewish rock and roller. Listen up, people.
by Dan Pine June 12, 2003

Clapping, singing, arms swaying, everybody's praising the Lord. Sounds like a typical Kodak moment on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. But where is it written that ecstatic musical worship is the exclusive province of Christians?

Jewish singer and songwriter Ira Scott Levin is out to turn that notion on its head with his new independently released CD, "Madlik Oti." In the seven tracks, Levin unabashedly makes a joyful noise.

"... A mix of original tunes and interpretations of Jewish liturgical standards, the CD shows Levin to be a musical cheerleader in the realm of Jewish worship ..."

Levin, who has a dual career as a San Francisco children's entertainer known as Uncle Eye, appears to have benefited from a wide variety of influences both sacred and secular. They include Cat Stevens, James Taylor and other baby boomer folk heroes, as well as Jewish music titans like Debbie Friedman and Shlomo Carlebach. The Bay Area musician also brings a muscular playing style to the table, hammering away at his Martin guitar like Pete Townshend windmilling a Rickenbacker.

It's all put to good effect on "Madlik Oti," which Levin describes as "Jewish soulfolk to help bridge the gap between tribes and tents." A mix of original tunes and interpretations of Jewish liturgical standards, the CD shows Levin to be a musical cheerleader in the realm of Jewish worship.

The CD kicks off with the acoustic rocker "Madlik Oti" (Hebrew for "Ignite my Soul"). As vocally raw as Bruce Springsteen on a good night, Levin dispels any lingering images of sedate Jewish prayer. "A Happy Song," with its witty lyrics and flute flourishes, expresses a fervent love of God reminiscent of George Harrison's more hallucinogenic Hindu paeans.

"A Sea-Faring L'Cha Dodi," so named for its evocative chantey rhythm, is an effective, if spare, take on the beloved Kabbalat Shabbat song. Levin's wife, Julia Bordenaro Levin, herself an accomplished singer (she's a member of a group called Vocolot), adds harmonies, and their vocal blend invites comparisons to Pentangle and other acoustic-based ensembles.

In its lean simplicity, Levin's take on the Shema prayer accentuates the inherent holiness of this central Jewish prayer. He adds his own English lyrics, as the piece -- titled "Shema/Dodi Li" morphs into the love song, adding a spark of originality to an ancient melody. Once again, Bordenaro chimes in with enchanting harmonies.

In Levin's hands, "Mi Chamocha" becomes pure rock 'n' roll prayer. Coming of age musically in the rock era, the singer chooses to embrace and accentuate those roots rather than downplay them.

Which is why Levin seems most comfortable singing original compositions like "Manna From Heaven." The tune offers a comic take on food, gluttony, matzah, and a loving God. Here, Levin echoes the contemporary country-flavored sensibilities of artists like Phil Vasser and Garth Brooks, but his Jewish anchor never lets him drift too far or wide.

The CD ends with another original, "Anachnu Mishpacha --We are Family," which perhaps best embodies Levin's blend of liturgy, worship, and contemporary pop. Singing in Hebrew and English, Levin lets it rip much as a gospel singer might, making spiritual connection paramount.

Levin has a background in acting and songleading, and he brings both skills to bear on "Madlik Oti." Until recently, most of his recorded output, both solo and collaborative, has been primarily in the field of children's music. He broke through with "The Sultan of Time," his first solo CD for grownups, which stressed his spiritual and whimsical nature.

Now, with "Madlik Oti," he ratchets things up -- making a strong impression as a mature singer and songwriter. Maybe the time has come for Uncle Eye to quit his day job.

Dan Pine writes for the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California.