By YIFA YAAKOVThe Collective
December 8"It's time now to react,
the whole wide world is watching.
So clean out your chimney
and roll up your stockings.
Smile hard when you stand,
smile harder when you fall.
And be careful where you sit,
'cause this country's too small."
What is not surprising, is that these words were written by an Israeli about Israel.
What is surprising, is that they were written in flawless English and sung in a lilting voice, backed by a large band of childhood friends.
This is The Collective, a group of seven talented multi-instrumentalists, who play together, jam together and stick up for each other in the competitive Israeli and international music industry.
This thread of camaraderie runs through everything they do, making the band that much more unique and its work that much more admirable.
The members of The Collective have been recording under various aliases - each one differing musically from the other - for years. The well-informed may have heard of Idan Rabinovici, whose English-language debut album Bedroom Folk, has been embraced by a steadily growing crowd since it quietly emerged four years ago.
The Collective's other lead vocalist, Roy Rieck, fronts the Medley Band, comprised of the aforementioned musicians, some of them in different roles. Clad in denim and plaid, Rieck makes music that is louder and heavier than Rabinovici's, deeply rooted in blues and the darker side of country.
The troupe spent a few months recording in London, where they rubbed shoulders with the Manic Street Preachers - well, they let them look at their guitars. Born from this was their new EP Strange Folks, named after Rabinovici's latest project. The customized felt cover, which the band handmade in their living room, gives it a do-it-yourself feel, disguising its sleek, sophisticated production.
But no matter what their music sounds like on CD, on stage it's bound to be bigger, better, more elaborate.
The Collective defines itself alternately as a "crumbling republic," a "monocracy" (perhaps a reference to gig-importing production company Monocrave, which has recently taken the group under its wing) and "a drunken jam session ... which has never read Brecht."
Translated into live music, that means a colorful, engaging show, which blends genres and sounds so seamlessly and skillfully that it leaves listeners mind-boggled. When they turn up the trumpet and bring on the drums, you think you've got their brassy, jazzy sound all figured out, and then they surprise you with a forlorn harmonica solo or an improvised clash between electric guitars.
Lending itself to a dozen genres, but rarely to one
clearly-defined style, the rich variety sometimes makes you feel like you're sitting in on a basement practice session; however, the stage presence of such a large number of professional musicians resonates, leaving no room for doubt.
At other times, it reaches rare peaks, for example when a Middle Eastern riff sneaks into all that harmonious cacophony. Or, when the funky, energetic melodies evoke the gypsy-inspired magic of Beirut.
The calming and grounding tones of an acoustic guitar cut into the fanfare, reminding us that this was originally recorded as, well, bedroom folk, and I find myself fervently hoping these guys will - as Rabinovici has himself articulated - "be big someday."
The Collective will be back in town on January 9, 2010, at Hakatze. Be there.
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