August 17, 2006
Thirty Years of Carlebach Rock
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's musical legacy has taken many forms, from the dozens of minyanim whose worship uses his music to the excellent recordings made by his daughter, Neshama. But the most enduring and unexpected offspring from Carlebach's folkie neo-Chasidism is the number of jam bands performing his music. If that seems incongruous, you only need to hear the Moshav Band to realize how natural it really is.
Moshav Band, which was founded as a direct result of Carlebach's influence, just released its first English only album -- "Misplaced."
Reb Shlomo and a group of his followers had created a musical moshav in Israel in 1977 in the hills between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, a community called Moshav Meor Modi'im. Yehuda (vocals), Dovid (guitar), Meir (guitar, mandolin) and Yosef Solomon (bass), the sons of one of the original members of that community, are the core of the group, joined by drummer David Swirsky. Like Inasense and Soulfarm, two other Carlebach-spawned jam bands, they melded his musical influence with that of the rock groups they heard as kids -- most obviously, The Dead, Dylan, Neil Young -- in a splendid blend of sacred and secular.
The Moshav Band has long been one of the most popular of Jewish-oriented rock groups, but sometime at the end of the millennium that distinction ceased to satisfy the group. Perhaps the band had always intended to try hurdling the wall that generally separates openly Jewish music from rest of the entertainment world; for Christians that wall has been more of a semipermeable membrane, as any country-music fan will tell you. Whatever their motivation, in 2000 the band members relocated to Los Angeles to launch their assault on rest of the pop/rock world.
"Higher and Higher: The Best of the Moshav Band," which the Jewish Music Group released earlier this year, is a canny attempt to straddle the gap between the moshav and the mosh pit. The set has more English-language songs than its previous recordings, and it is long on anthemic rockers like "Waiting for the Calling" that would not be out of place on an album by U2 or Pearl Jam, two bands to which it bears more than a slight resemblance. But even the straighthead rockers and love songs can be easily read as calls to God, rather than your usual pop invocations of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. In truth, the bands it most resembles are ones that are firmly grounded in the soil of a homeland and its political struggles, bands like The Levellers or The Pogues (if you sobered them up).
In that respect, the Moshav Band's heart and soul are still linked tightly
to the hills outside Jerusalem and, fittingly, to the musical and spiritual
legacy of Rabbi Carlebach.
George Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week. His book, "Essential Torah," will be published by Shocken Books in fall 2006.