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When Moshav released its previous studio album, last year's Malachim, the group was still called the Moshav Band, and its members still hadn't been signed to a record label.
A lot has changed in the world of Jewish music since then, with the powers that be now apparently in a rush to find the next Matisyahu. But while artistry alone may not be the reason for record companies' increased interest in Jewish music, the outcome has been that quality small-time acts like Moshav and Rav Shmuel get the backing they deserve.
Making it all possible for the boys from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's Moshav Mevo Modiim is Jewish Music Group (JMG), a new Los Angeles record label with ties to the entertainment giants at Sony. Back in 2000, the Moshav Band left behind its budding career in Israel for Los Angeles, promising fans that the group would make it big in the New World. The band has more or less stuck to its vision, incredibly enough, albeit with some twists and turns along the way. While LA club gigs have certainly appeared on the group's touring schedule, Moshav has probably played for its biggest crowds at Jewish-oriented events in New York and Israel. Sessions for a fully secular album were shelved two years ago in favor of the spiritual and Carlebach-heavy Return Again and its sequel, Malachim.
The new disc, Misplaced, opens with sounds of collective praying that lead into a poetically revisited "Alenu," followed by the powerful rhythm and string interplay of the similarly God-minded "Closer." On "Gone," Duvid Swirsky's lead vocals flirt with Seventies Bob Dylan and Eighties Peter Gabriel settings. The title track features a great melody, some poignant lyrics and a radio-friendly yet low-key rock style. The scat chants and snare breaks of "Hallelu" pave the way for the reggae of "Lift Up," which offers up scorching, soaring slide guitar solos and an "I see angels" refrain.
JMG's involvement has enabled Moshav to make its sound bigger than ever - but not at the expense of identity. Together with a whopping 13 other engineers credited in the liner notes, Misplaced producer Ron Aniello (Guster, Barenaked Ladies) has pushed every song to a dramatic edge. Part of this huge sound comes from drummer Matt Chamberlain, a former member of Pearl Jam and the Saturday Night Live house band who has also worked as a hired rhythm-maker with Tori Amos, Morrissey, David Bowie, Elton John, Peter Gabriel and Kanye West.
A slightly different team of songwriters was used on this album, too. But thematically, Misplaced picks up right where Malachim left off - we're presented with a band on the run that feels lost but remains sure of what it wants to be. "Yes, I'm tired of running / Have mercy, won't you take me home," says Misplaced's title song. Home eludes these boys, whose self-imposed exile has them wandering the world, playing inspired niggun jam-pop, redefining their true selves and, thankfully, sticking to their ambitions.
Ben Jacobson can be reached at [email protected]