Native Texan Joe Buchanan had been married to his wife, April, for 13 years when he learned she was Jewish. Already searching for answers, he looked into her faith and found his voice in Jewish values, history and Torah.
It has been four years since Buchanan finished his conversion to Judaism, and he has written about his spiritual journey through his debut album, “Unbroken.”
Produced by Saul Kaye, who has been called the pioneer of Jewish blues, “Unbroken” features a distinctly Southern sound from the Houston-based Buchanan. From his first track, a rowdy, countrified version of “Shalom Aleichem,” to his final track, “We Are Here,” an introspective tune about his newfound sense of Jewish belonging, the album fills a space in Judaic music that was nonexistent: Jewish Americana.
The album mixes original songs and original takes on traditional Jewish music. The best way to describe it to someone who hasn’t heard would be Zac Brown Band crossed with American Jewish rock band Safam.
Buchanan’s second track, “Hear (Sh’ma)” is an inventive blend of original and traditional Jewish music. An original melody with new and familiar lyrics, the driving tune ends with a powerful recitation of the Shema.
The Texan picks things up with an upbeat and positive third track, “Repair,” before getting into the album’s title track, a soulful tune that sheds light on Buchanan’s decision to convert.
“I was looking for G-d all my life,” the song begins. “Being told G-d was good and I wasn’t right. … No matter how good your life, it will never add up in G-d’s eyes.”
Buchanan told the AJT he was deeply moved by Judaism’s positive outlook on the world and life-affirming perspective. He wrote all of the songs from “Unbroken” after his conversion to Judaism.
The 14-track album continues with Buchanan’s country and folk versions of the traditional tunes “Elohai N’tzor” and “Modeh Ani,” as well as his enjoyable and twangy take on a Kabbalistic niggun with “The River’s Niggun.”
The remaining original tracks offer personal insights into Buchanan’s inner workings with “A Joyful Noise,” “Sarah Laughed,” and “Home,” a moving song with a catchy chorus that borrows from the traditional “Etz Chaim Hi.”
Buchanan’s soulful debut album is well worth a listen, not only for the novelty of authentic Jewish country music, but also for the perspective of an enthusiastic former outsider on the Jewish faith.
Who: Joe Buchanan
Get it: joebuchananmusic.com