The Gangsta Rabbi, a.k.a. The King Of Jewish Punk, is the moniker of the multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, composer and producer Steve Lieberman. He was born in Brooklyn, New York to a working class Jewish family and now resides in Freeport. Perhaps more than most artists, his work needs to be understood in the full context of his life.

He has been considered an ‘outsider artist’, partly attributed to his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder which began for him at the age of just eleven. He has been releasing studio albums since 2002 and has now released over thirty, along with live albums and countless cassettes. He has shared the stage with Weezer, Andrew WK, Glassjaw, Ryan Dunn and The Misfits, but had to retire from performing in 2011 owing to having to battle an advanced form of leukaemia, returning briefly to the stage in 2016.

In 2018, he was admitted into a hospice and remarkably has carried on creating, producing his most challenging works including completely covering Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick (a major influence) and thrash metal versions of the British Opera, The H.M.S. Pinafore and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. In 2019, he released his 3 hour magnum opus, Symphonie-Thrash Du Professeur Juif Rebelle.

More recently, the Rabbi has now entered the Guinness Book Of Records for the world’s longest composition, his 33 hour magnum opus Noise Militia #38/76! You can read my review of this here and also a review of the overture to this piece which he released in 2020 (read here).

This compendium of singles and EP’s from Post-Militia Pogo Battalion (#39/77) starts out with the brilliant, incendiary Unholy War In A Holy Land, taken from his third album ‘liquidatia-455’, released originally in 2004. A chaotic yet controlled cyclone of sound, essentially the Gangsta Rabbi signature sound comes out all guns blazing from the start. Though the lyrics are hard to catch, the title strongly suggests it’s about the Israel and Palestine conflict and perhaps an expression of his Jewish faith.

The next three tracks consist of monumental medleys that combine Gangsta Rabbi originals with radically original takes on various pop, alternative rock and punk classics to great effect. Opus #111 (#1-5) opens up like an MC5 track, before breaking out into Militia Man, an inspired cacophony of electric and orchestral instruments locked in to a thunderous rhythm. This is followed by completely unique renditions of 25or6to4 by Chicago, The Knack’s perennial classic My Sharon’s, and Traffic’s Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, finishing with Be My Lover.

Opus #110 again opens with a Lieberman original, Bassett-Hound Pull Toy, following up with gloriously irreverent reworkings of Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes, Feeling Stronger Every Day by Chicago and closing this medley out with Rock. Opus #109 flips things around, starting with an inimitable cover of The Third Hoorah by Jethro Tull, replete with a kaleidoscopic swirl of wailing woodwinds, before segueing into his own Mourn for Me Like The Prophet.

The lyrics to this track capture the Rabbi at his most poetic, profound and heartfelt: “Mourn for me like the Prophet, for these are my magic last days, bewail me, never stop it in my tragic magic last days.…”. The final verse is pure punk rock spirit, a glorious middle finger to the bullshit political meddling in the world an artist has to contend with: “Mourn for me you municipality, you can no longer censor me, mourn for me you State of New York, go and shove your General Municipal Law”.

This intensity is then thrown into light relief with entertaining covers of You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive and A Salty Dog by 60’s legends Procal Harum. Next comes the blazing punk fury of I’ll Overthrow The Government For You(After A Bloodless Coup d’État-3472), featuring an impassioned and fiery lead vocal from the Rabbi, over five minutes of musical dynamite. The lyrics channel the romantic, revolutionary spirit of the Sex Pistols: “To have you back I’ll be an anarchist, for a night of love or just one kiss…”.

This is followed by the superbly titled POLICE OFFICER – (Don’t Gimme No PRODUCER), of similar duration and equal intensity – the Rabbi’s vocals are even more visceral and energetic on this one. Yet even this is outdone by a superlative ten minute cover of Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, a complete reimagining that the Rabbi makes his own.

Then we see a return to the gloriously manic medleys with OPUS # 104- ARIA’S# 1 – 4. 21st Century Schizoid Man by 70’s prog rockers King Crimson is given a sonic reinvention by the Rabbi that not even they could concoct in their imaginations, following up by an equally left of field take on Midnight Oil’s Truganini.

Radar Love is one the Rabbi’s finest cover versions, originally by Golden Earring. Managing to maintain the pop sensibilities of the original and infusing it with his brand of musical chaos magick, it’s thunderous energy and momentum continue to the end with razor sharp, jagged edged guitars pitched against restless, cyclonic woodwinds.

It features first as a stand-alone single then reappears as part of the medley Opus #103 Arias 1-4, which starts out with another excellent cover, Always Saturday, a song originally by Guadalcanal Diary. After Radar Love, we then get a typically quirky reworking of quite a mainstream original, Mixed Emotions by The Rolling Stones. Just as good is the Rabbi’s take on The Who’s 60’s classic I Can’t Explain.

Opus #102- Aria’s 1-4 is another strong and eclectic medley that ranges from the opening version of Midnight Oil’s Back On The Borderline, following up with a Rabbi take on Elton John’s Your Song, then an unexpected but excellent cover of Bring On The Dancing Horses by Echo and The Bunnymen. The medley is completed by a version of another track Guadalcanal Diary.

Opus #101 is just as wildly eclectic and versatile, from Nemesis to a cover of Billy Bragg’s A New England, then segues into vibrant versions of George Harrison’s Beware of Darkness and The Cure’s goth classic Disintegration.

The final medley in this collection is Opus #99 is kicked off by a Rabbi classic, Skinheads In My Yard, Oy Vey! An unexpected but a typically inimitable rendition of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer is contrasted by Echo and the Bunnymen’s Nocturnal Me (from their 1984 album, Ocean Rain). The medley, clocking in at over twenty minutes like the rest, is completed by The Story In Your Eyes, originally a hit for the Moody Blues back in 1971. It’s given the full Lieberman treatment and rounds things out perfectly.

Overall, this is an extensive singles and EP’s compendium of a legendary alternative artist who can genuinely lay claim to creating a truly original sound and style which he applies to both his own compositions and the colourful, eclectic range of other people’s songs that feature in his numerous medleys. With another record breaking composition on the way, there is simply no stopping the Gangsta Rabbi and long may he rock.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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