"Eugene, Ore. based Tobias sings Jewish themes in an American country-rock style, supported by his own acoustic guitar and harmonica; mandolin, keyboards, soft percussion and friends' voices complement this gentle down-home album. The cover photo of Tobias, crouching by a campfire next to a river, casually hatted, says it all: Here's a Northwest guy incorporating the local imagery of salmon, water, stars and mountains, with Jewish ideas."

The Jewish Transcript
April 2002
by Gigi Yellen-Kahn

 

"Tobias combines a variety of folk styles into his songs which center around Jewish holidays and traditions, but you certainly don't have to be Jewish to appreciate the music. The overarching universal themes of freedom, peace and harmony resonate in the listener regardless of faith. The songs are upbeat and spirited -- in more ways than one -- with lyrics, melodies and harmonies that beg you to sing along."  full review at: http://www.rambles.net/tobias_sparks.html

Rambles Magazine
September 2001
by Donna Scanlon

 

"From the first "Because There Were Miracles" to the last "Peace, Perfect Peace" Rob Tobias's CD "Sparks" is truly upbeat and inspirational. It is contemporary Jewish music where Tobias and his group negotiate songs to celebrate by for the entire Jewish year. The songs also range from religious devotion to secular songs of hope in a wide variety of musical styles. Highlights include: "Ad Lo Yada", a funky cajun melody for Purim, "Avinu Malkeinu", an original song of spiritual renewal, "Eight Nights" a lovely, upbeat Chanukah tune, and an homage to the prophet Elijah like I hadn't heard before. Rich Glauber on keyboards and Judith Levine-Friedman on background vocals add to the joyous feel of the CD."

by Michael Sherman
Host of
Rejuvenating Heritage on KEOS

 

"I'll admit to knowing next to nothing about the Jewish soul or its music, but I certainly didn't expect this. It's more a blend of pop and world music that is thoroughly homegrown, like a Victory Garden, built from need, but then growing into something beautiful.

The title song, 'Sparks,' blends congas and mandolin into the usual acoustic guitar and vocal from Rob and several backing vocals, with a chorus of 'And we gather sparks to lead us from the place of dark / And the wine and spice, lead us in our daily lives / Finding strength in song, blessings that leads us on / As we begin anew, to see the mystery of me and you'. It's a song for 'Havdallah, the end of Shabbos on Saturday night when the sun goes down,' and the sparks refer to the connection of Jewish and misc. cultures that come together to connect everyone, including the author.

But it's the instrumentation and groove that really makes it hard to pin this recording into a specific genre. 'Ad Lo Yada' uses the synth to bring in a steel drum (or something of that sort) into the very tropical feel that you'd think would be more akin to beaches and Jimmy Buffet. 'All you lovely people step on down, all the best in this town / It's time to shake loose, let your hair down, let your body go round and round / AD LO, AD LO YA, AD LO YA, AD LO YADA.'

Sometimes he sounds like a white Lou Rawls, other times he's like that guy from The Band, but musically, I'm at a loss for comparison. When you hear 'I Forgot To Pray,' with the trumpet and the sax and the mandolin coming together, it's easy to get taken back to the late 60s when belief and music co-existed. It still does here."

musicdish.com
July 2001
by Ben Ohmart

 

"Rob's new CD is upbeat, fun and joyous. I defy anyone who hears this CD to not jump up, move, dance and celebrate with body, heart, and soul.

These songs are like old wine in new bottles the way they renew the old and make the new holy.

The melody for Sparks is so deep, so soul rending, so touching in the deepest place... the kind of thing where it brings a thrill and a tear to my soul and eyes and heart at the same time.

Rob has a wonderful way of addressing themes of our tradition and bringing it to modern times. The song, Eight Nights is a winner, a wonderful Hannukah melody for kids and young people of all ages. Overall the CD is well produced with lots of fabulous harmonies, great rhythms, and positive, inspiring messages."

Rabbi Hanan Sills
Ad-Olam, Eugene, Oregon

 

The newest release from Oregon-based singer/songwriter, Rob Tobias is called Sparks. With assistance from his colleague, Rich Glauber who plays keyboards, bass, brass and sings, Rob has created a CD with interesting arrangements and a jazzy, light rock feel with lots of "island" influence. Also enjoyable were the occasional vocal enhancements of Judith Levine-Friedman.

The CD begins with "Because There Were Miracles" a tune with a very John Mellencamp type feel. Rob's "Avinu Malkeynu" gives thanks and praise to God incorporating both masculine and feminine aspects of God.  The title track "Sparks" -- about Havdalah -- has a slow, jazzy feel. It's hypnotically, melodic niggun will have you swaying with the beat.

Also included are a number of songs about peace and freedom. "Brick by Brick" is a layered, chant-like piece about how the bitterness of slavery turned into the sweetness of freedom. The song, "Freedom" was reminiscent of Neil Diamond and ends with a surprising calypso-like instrumental. Toots Hibbert's "Peace, Perfect Peace" ends the CD with its gospel, spiritual feel asking for peace in our neighborhoods.

One of my favorites was "Ad Lo Yada" which has a festive, carnival feel -- almost like Mardi Gras (being a Louisianian maybe that is why I liked it so much). It would be great for line dancing! And my most favorite has to be "Walk The Bagel". What a great song! Some of the lyrics: "In the shape of the bagel, there's a lesson to learn. All things pass and then they return. Can't you see, life's a bagel." A positive message in a feel-good song.

In fact, this whole CD sets an easy-going, feel-good mood. I also applaud Rob for his environmentally friendly (sans jewel case) packaging."

jewishentertainment.net
August 2001
by Judy Caplan Ginsburgh

 

"Eugene singer-songwriter Rob Tobias's new release is a kind of song cycle inspired by and marking the celebrations of the Jewish calendar, including Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, Purim, and several songs devoted to Passover.

Interestingly, Tobias approaches these traditional touchstones in a modern way, blending a wide variety of popular styles, including rock, pop, reggae and elements of American and Jewish folk music traditions.

The sound is bright and accessible, inviting us to forget our troubles and dance even as his lyrics explore deeper themes of spirituality, religious heritage, freedom, and personal and cultural renewal."

Victory Music Review
April 2001
by Richard Middleton

 

"Rob's Jewish heritage is very much a part of this musical creation. The selections on the CD include new, folk representations of such traditional pieces as Avinu Malkeinu and Eliyahu Hanavi. The selections included on Sparks also include some new, pure folk melodies that are pleasant to listen to.

The title song is a quiet song about the end of the Sabbath and the Havdalah ceremony. Rob's spirituality inhabits every melody and lyric of every track. Listening to it the first time, I was surprised at the smoothness of the melodies.

The pieces are arranged with flair and contribute to the quality of the spirituality of the music. An example of the unique quality is the Chanukah song, "Eight Nights." Rooted in the folk idiom suitable for listening or singing along, especially the repeated chorus, the group breaks into a country digression that, while a little surprising, fits right in."

The American Israelite
May 2001
by Stanley Bard

 

"Rob Tobias and his friends are gifted musicians, singers and arrangers. Rob sings with a spiritual intensity that I found fulfilling. I got the distinct impression he was smiling when he sang. You can hear it in his performance.

The song "Avinu Malkeinu" has a South African spiritual feel. The world beat thrives in the background as "Malkeinu" is praised for guidance and wisdom. The vocal harmonies and layering of the vocal ensemble is musically sound and very well done. The recording is also very good. I could close my eyes and imagine myself sitting in the room with a choir."

godsofmusic.com
by Mat Edwards

 

"Rob, I just wanted to let you know that I am really enjoying your music. I looked up your lyrics and they are great. I love your positive message and your soulful music. Your tunes transcend the ordinary and take you to a special, magical and spiritual place."

Gil Reynolds
The Testament Jones Band

 

"I just got Sparks and I'm loving it! The "Glauber influence" is evident in the fun, funky, Carribean/Rasta rhythms and in taking chances on some songs. Shlomo with mandolin and harmonica - wow! Love Jaime's guitar work on "Freedom" - and of course, "Walk the Bagel," with it's country/gospel roots would go over quite well here."

Robbi Sherwin
Jewish performer
Austin, Texas