Moonshine gets listeners lightheaded

"It's important for us to build a base here. It’s where we live and where we want to be.”

Moonshine: A throwback with a modern touch. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Moonshine: A throwback with a modern touch.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Where do they come from? These young Israeli musicians who sound like they’ve listened to and digested the entire Paul Simon, Crosby, Still & Nash, and Joni Mitchell songbooks?
Well, in Oshri Biton’s case, it’s the last place you’d look – Kiryat Motzkin, the nondescript Haifa satellite town. But it was later, at the prestigious Rimon School of Music, where the 26-year-old Biton found some like-minded fellow musicians. After graduating nearly two years ago, they’ve rallied around Biton’s tuneful, intense songs to create one of Israel’s most promising quintets – the Americana/indie folk band Moonshine
With songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Biton and co-singer Coral Oulo blending harmonies like an angelic Everly Brothers, and driving rhythm section that recalls Mumford and Sons at times, Moonshine have built a solid repertoire of English-language gems that both rock and caress.
“Everyone brings different influences to the mix. Coral grew up in Japan and went to private English school, where she discovered R&B and soul, our guitarist Omer Yihye likes fusion and jazz, the bassist is into techo,” said Biton, who professes a love of songwriting masters like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. “All the components come together to make us sound both classic and current.”
A causal listen to songs from their debut 2019 EP Come back Home, like the country-infused rave up title song, the Simon & Garfunkle-tinged “In Our Hearts” and the sensitive “Take My Longing” – or even better – hearing them live in concert backs up that claim. The songs are both timeless and modern.
Biton said that he writes with Dylan, Simon and Cohen in his mind because of two things he gets from their music: “honesty and sincerity.”
“When you hear their music, it sounds real and it speaks to me. And they write beautiful songs,” added Biton.
Unlike Jane Bordeaux, perhaps the closest precursor on the Israeli pop landscape, Moonshine performs in English (aside from a couple of Hebrew songs) because the feel and timbre of the songs lend themselves to English, explained Biton.
“There’s a more emotional connection to the sound when it’s in English,” he said, adding that it was also a tool to help the band eventually expand beyond Israel’s borders. “But it’s important for us to build a base here. It’s where we live and where we want to be.”
At a recent appearance at the monthly Jerusalem Folk Club in Jerusalem, an abridged edition of the band with Biton, Oulu and Yiyhe enthralled the crowd, consisting mostly of grizzled Anglo-folkies twice or three times their age, with an intimate, quiet set showcasing their musicianship and vocal prowess.
For Biton, it was a welcome surprise to be accepted by an audience who had experienced the “real thing” back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, rather than their usual Tel Aviv audience made up of contemporaries.
“I think we’re somewhat of a gateway between the folk club community and a younger generation that simply likes good music. From looking at our Spotify and Apple Music profiles, we have a young audience,” said Biton.
The full-band version of Moonshine will be appearing on February 15 at the Ozen Bar in Tel Aviv, and March 6 at the Singing @Neve Shalom weekend taking place at the moshav between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
“We give 200% because we know that we have to work harder than musicians elsewhere to succeed,” said Biton. “We don’t have a backup plan because we believe in what we’re doing.”
After a listen to Moonshine, you’ll agree.