If I’m being honest, the hardest part about giving up Christianity was not the preaching or the Sunday services (or…you know…Jesus), but the music. I’ve been a massive fan of the contemporary Christian genre since I was in the sixth grade and listened to Michael W. Smith the first time.
The other genre I’ve always adored, thanks to both my father and Ricky Skaggs, is Bluegrass. I have sought out great Bluegrass for years, even when I was in my early 20s and my cohorts thought I was insane for jamming to “Country Boy” while they were listening to whatever ear-bleedingly awful pop song was popular at the time. With the new Broadway musical Bright Star out right now, Bluegrass is getting in front of fresh ears, as well as reigniting my love for the genre.
These past eight-odd months, first when I was distancing myself from Christianity and then later, when I realized that Judaism was it for me, I missed Christian music because, naturally, I gave it up. But a soulful melody has always been like a religious experience to me, and while I was finding snippets of music here and there that I liked in the Jewish world, I had yet to find something that made me sit upright and yell with glee.
What happens when you combine Bluegrass and Jewishness? Well, you get the self-titled debut album by Nefesh Mountain, and it is nothing short of MAGNIFICENT.
I discovered Nefesh Mountain through the Really Interesting Jews podcast about a month ago. Once I googled them and then watched the “Esai Einai” video on their website, I could not wait for their debut album to drop. I was rewarded for my brief bout of patience last week, and the album is everything I hoped it would be – if not more.
There are 13 tracks, and it’s very hard for me to pick the one I love best. “River Song” is a great Bible lesson. “Modeh Ani” transports me with all its beautiful fiddlin’. I sing along at the top of my lungs to “Singin’ Jewish Girl.” I have danced all over my kitchen while that song is blasting through the speakers. “Millie’s Waltz” is purely instrumental and completely magic. The final track on the album, “Adonai Love Me,” puts me into a contemplative, prayerful mood and I usually have to listen to it twice. No matter what track I have going, I end up foot stomping or bouncing or staring off into space dreamily. As I said, picking a favorite is nearly impossible. It’s rare for me to love an entire album by anybody (other than Sam Hunt!) Nefesh Mountain has made the kind of debut album where you simply do not skip a track.
Let me be clear on something – this is real, legit Bluegrass. Nefesh Mountain makes the kind of Bluegrass that transports you right into the heart of the Smoky Mountains (or in my case, the Cascades or Olympic Mountains). You can almost feel the mountain mist kissing your cheeks as it swirls around you, enveloping you, and at least for the 58 minutes the album plays, taking your burdens right off your tired shoulders. This music is just that good.
(What I also love is the seamless transitions between English and Hebrew (which I’m currently studying) and the fact that I recognize these prayers from my Shabbat service attendance.)
Bluegrass has always been a gorgeous blending of mountain music with mountain faith – unique and often deeply Christian. Nefesh Mountain’s debut album, and what I hope is one of many, is powerful for me, a woman who is living her life Jew-ishly (aka studying Judaism and trying to live more like a Jew every day, even though I haven’t been in the mikveh yet to make it official) because it tells me something loud and clear – that I haven’t given up anything musically because I’m no longer Christian. This music has a Bluegrass heart and a Jewish soul and, frankly, it doesn’t get more beautiful than that!