Yeshiva U. pop combo cranks out Orthodox rock

Sporting names like Dov Rosenblatt, Hayyim Danzig, Avi Hoffman and Danny Zwillenberg, the members of the rock group Blue Fringe might well make up for every Jewish entertainer who ever Anglicized his autograph.

As if their names don’t give it away, Blue Fringe is a Jewish rock group. And most religious rock music ought to be played in the elevators of Hell. There just might not be anything worse than lyrics ripped from a hymn book, set to riff rock and performed during a light show by four tragically hip guys who look like they ought to be in Ashton Kutcher’s posse.

Mostly, one associates the phenomenon of religious rock to our Christian brethren, but, yes, religious Jews do pick up electric guitars from time to time. And, often, the resulting music sounds like the kind of stuff a Jewish mom might toss into the CD player of the Plymouth Voyager and try to convince the toddlers in the back seat that it’s cool. But they know better, and so does she.

So that’s why listening to Blue Fringe’s debut album, “My Awakening,” was not unlike running headlong into a plate-glass window — it surprised me.

I was surprised how amazingly well Hoffman handles a guitar; at times he almost reminded me of Santana. I was surprised at the gentle strength of Rosenblatt’s voice, and how powerfully he harmonized with Danzig and Hoffman. In short, I’m surprised how much I like an album crafted by four goofy-looking, yarmulke- and tzitzit-wearing Yeshiva University students in their early 20s who — if the crowd reaction on a “hidden” live track is the norm — could aptly be described as an Orthodox party band.

Well, so be it. Blue Fringe kicks … tuchus.

Of the album’s 12 tracks (Not one, but two are unlisted — tricky, tricky), seven are in Hebrew and the five English numbers are riddled with Hebrew phrases and, essentially, Orthodox in-jokes.

As in “The Shidduch Song”: “To my dismay/ I think I can say/ I’m the only one in the whole entire Orthodox community/ my age/ not engaged.”

Or, from “Flippin’ Out,” a tongue-in-cheek look at becoming frum: “I start to think that girls are ‘gashmius’/I tell myself that I’m above that ‘shtus’/So I break up with her, my lifelong friend/Cause ‘kavod ha-briyut’ is just pretend.”

Gashmius means “material or physical benefits,” shtus could be translated as “something foolish” and kavod ha-briyut translates as “respect for one another.”

It’s easier to understand Snoop Dogg talk than it would be to make headscarf or tzitzit out of lyrics like “Flippin’ Out” without a glossary, and forget about the Hebrew numbers. Good thing they play the instruments well.

Now, Rosenblatt’s voice is a bit gentle for my taste. And some of these songs are just too damn poppy. But if the notion of Jewish rock fit for those old enough to sit in the front seat of a minivan — or perhaps even drive one — is appealing, I think you’ve found your band.

“My Awakening” is independently released, and is available on Blue Fringe’s Web site, for $13.99.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.