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Moshav as Musical Antidote?

May 31, 2007 By:
M.J. Fine, JE Feature
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Maybe you've had this experience: You're driving around, with one hand on the wheel and the other on the radio, looking for something that rocks. At first, you can't find any classic tunes -- it's all talk shows, news, commercials or smooth jazz -- so you keep skipping around mindlessly.

Finally, you settle on something. It rocks, kind of. Yet the longer you listen to the music, the more something seems a bit off, though you're not sure what it is. And then you catch the lyrics, and it hits you: It's a dude using the masculine pronoun while earnestly extolling his love -- and not because he's gay.

Danger: Christian rock!

What if it sneaks into your brain while you're distracted by the SUV that totally cut you off? The next thing you know, you're buying one of those Jesus fish for the back of your car. Subliminal conversion: Could it happen? I don't know, but I've never lingered long enough to find out.

Turning off the radio generally works; changing the station is another sensible solution. But if you're really worried about prolonged exposure, you might want to check out Moshav to counteract the effect.

Multi-instrumentalist Duvid Swirsky, lead singer Yehuda Solomon and bassist Yosef Solomon were raised on Moshav Mevo Modi'im, whose most celebrated resident was the late Shlomo Carlebach, a charismatic composer who put his musical stamp on the community.

For more than 10 years, the three young friends have been Moshav's most permanent members, staying together even as they left Israel for Los Angeles. (The Solomons' brother, Meir, who dropped out of the lineup, still writes and plays once in a Purim.)

Moshav has played Philadelphia several times in support of last year's "Misplaced," and they return to World Café Live on Monday, June 25. "Misplaced" follows a string of mostly Hebrew releases, but the album's fluent English idioms wouldn't sound out of place on certain radio frequencies.

The opening song, "The Only One," has a familiar earnestness. "Loving, living, searching for/ What's behind every door/The only one, the only one," sings Yehuda Solomon. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a Christian rock song that draws from the Shema, as "The Only One" does when Solomon chants, Echad, echad, ushmo echad.

With a mix by star producer Brendan O'Brien, who's worked with Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and Rage Against the Machine, the song has a modern-rock sheen.

Much of "Misplaced" further benefits from the presence of session player Matt Chamberlain, whose other gigs last year included albums by Kenny Rogers, Shakira and Morrissey. Chamberlain's big-deal drums work nicely with Solomon and Swirsky's tasteful percussion.

And then there's Ron Aniello, who produced "Misplaced," co-wrote five of its songs, and contributed guitar, bass and keyboards. He's previously collaborated with secular bands like Barenaked Ladies, as well as Christian rockers like Jars of Clay and Lifehouse.

Some of the tracks Aniello worked on veer uncomfortably close to Christian-rock tropes, like the reggae-tinged "Lift up Your Head." Take this line: "I've seen angels flying over/Show me how to open up/Tell me that I'm born again."

Born again? That doesn't sound so Jewish to me. Sure, later in the song Yehuda Solomon addresses the angels in Hebrew but, frankly, if I stumbled across it on the radio, I'd scan past long before he got there.

Thankfully, there's a little more to Moshav than messianic yearning and devotion. The title track is the lament of a man who has to leave his family to find work across the border while "The Streets of Jerusalem" is a ballad about lovers separated in exile. The skittery, Sephardic-sounding "Hallelu" even alludes to kicking heroin.

Musically, Moshav draws upon influences from their homeland and the Diaspora. Beseeching violin and lively percussion enliven "Abba Shimon," which was co-written by Yemeni-Israeli musician Zion Golan; it's also the only track that uses more Hebrew than English. A vocal arrangement on "When I'm Gone" recalls Paul Simon's album "Graceland," and "Dream Again" feels like Elton John on his best behavior.

But the album's best song is Tom Waits' "Jockey Full of Bourbon." The arrangement swings, the performance is tight, and Solomon's vocal timing is spot on.

Moshav could stand to learn from Waits' idiosyncratic lyrics. Vaguely spiritual cliches may be a quick way to connect with lazy listeners, but nothing beats fresh imagery set to a great tune.

The band's ready for airplay, but if they want to keep hands off the radio dial, they'll need a little more help from above and within, and a little less from the Christian-rock playbook. 

 

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