Thursday, May 13, 2021


 That's right, but not that one, not even a cover of that version, but as good a taster as any to the remarkable and largely unsung talent of Asaf Avidan, huge in Israel, less well known elsewhere. Diminutive in stature, odd of voice, he, for it is a he, has put out a steady stream of recordings these past fifteen years. Perhaps, in this week of reawakening mayhem in the Gaza, let's turn to something that feels more a source for unity than division.

Over My Head/Gold Shadow

Still barely into his forties, he could loosely, very loosely, be described as a combination of Prince and Sinead O'Connor, both in chameleonic voice and appearance, but with more than a hint of Leonard Cohen in his searching and erudite lyricism. With his first band, the Mojos, he set Tel Aviv alive in the early noughties, the band's debut going gold, one of the highest selling independent releases in the history of the Israeli record industry. This was 2008's The Reckoning, the band having formed following the earlier good reception of a debut solo EP, a couple of years earlier, Now That You're Leaving. A further couple of releases attempted to build on that success, but Avidan felt constrained by the limitations of the standard guitars/bass/drums format and put the band on the bumpers in 2011. Then fortune came smiling, as one of the singles from The Reckoning became picked up by German DJ and producer, Wankelmut, he remixing Reckoning Song, now entitled One Day/Reckoning Song into a veritable dance floor smash. (I feel here I should mention the role of my wife in all and any of my knowledge of this artist, she drawing this song to my attention, when we were courting, her riposte to my mixtapes of Jackie Leven and Fairport. Thank You for that!) Having earlier dented the mainland Europe market place with the Mojos, this broke him to much wider audiences, gouging platinum sales across that territory, a number on in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The UK, traditionally resistant and sceptical to "European" pop cultures, even caught on, the remix attaining a creditable 30 on the singles chart. The Reckoning LP also bounced back into circulation on the back of it.

One Day (Reckoning Song): Wankelmut remix

This timing was ideal, coinciding with the release of his first full length solo project, Different Pulses, an astonishing and powerful collection of songs, with a range of subjects and a volley of influences, all dressed within his extraordinary vocal timbre. Even if acclimatised via the Wankelmut, it is still quite a shock to hear his voice, the resonance unlike any other, dripping with emotion. Off putting, even, at first hearing, I can only exhort you to work with it, as the songs seep into your consciousness, the realisation coming that they could be tackled in no other way, so perfectly aligned they are to the forceful drive of delivery. A few listens and you will find yourself singing along. Or trying to. 

Different Pulse/Different Pulses

Again, Europe continued to be his main playground, selling the strongest in France, an identifiable link with the french tradition of chanson sometimes apparent in his style of writing, the subject matter and dense verbiage of the lyrics. A second album, Gold Shadow, 2015, seemed a slight step back, a little more orthodox in the rock instrumentation, perhaps understandably, he having spent the interim three years on the road, playing and promoting. The featured track headlining this piece comes from it, hinting at a morph of both Phil and Ronnie Spector. Followed by 2017's The Study on Falling, this has him restoring some of the melancholic angst of Different Pulses, the rawness of the songs reproducible in concert, even when just himself, a guitar, a harmonica and some effects pedals. His most recent release Anagnorisis, emerged in lockdown, last autumn. An interview in American Songwriter gives some clue as to what the listener should expect. Possibly his most diverse set of songs yet. 

My Old Pain/Study in Falling

Lost Horse/Anagnorisis

Should you read the above interview, it will become apparent what a thoughtful, and possibly tormented, soul he possesses. This aspect has certainly courted controversy in his homeland. As the son of a diplomat, with an upbringing in Jamaica and in New York, he has observed the Israeli ethos from both sides. When, in a French newspaper, in 2015, he stated he felt himself not to be an Israeli, but rather to be from Israel, this did not endear him to all his compatriots: "In every interview I gave from the first second I always said I am not an Israeli artist, but an artist from Israel. I am not coming to represent Israel. I am not a politician. I am not a diplomat. And as a son to diplomats I never wanted to be one". Within the hotbed of Israeli politics, this was understandably ill-received by other than his fanbase, possibly expanding it, whilst alienating further his elders.

Her Lies/In a Box II

He remains broadly little known in the UK, and probably a good deal less even in the States. I think this a shame, he deserving of a wider audience. This is probably not helped by the difficulty in getting hold of tangible product, his latest record as yet only available via mail order from Israel, with p&p somewhat off-putting. This, together with a fading commercial mass market appeal means that until any major is prepared to pick him back up, he may have to remain niche.

In the meantime, try this, In a Box, available via Bandcamp, a memento of his live repertoire. Recorded in 2012, after he had put the Mojos to bed and before his emphatic solo launch. In a Box II, further material, alone and in a studio, in real time, this time from 2018, is also available for download, and is where the final clip, above, comes from.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Head: The Lemonheads-It’s A Shame About Ray

The Lemonheads: It’s A Shame About Ray

In the mid-late 1970s, I was in high school (hey—I’m old! I turn 60 today!), became a music obsessive and knew, like, everything about the music that I loved (to the extent possible in the pre-Internet era). From 1979-1982, I was a college DJ and program director, and really dug deeply into the music. Even after college, when I was in law school, I was still a student, and was able to listen to my favorite albums and the radio pretty regularly. 

Then came the late 1980s and 1990s. Between working at a big Wall Street law firm and then smaller, high pressure firms, meeting the woman who would become my wife, having two children, buying and selling a New York apartment, moving to the suburbs and then buying a house, for some reason, I didn’t seem to be able to be quite as focused on new music. That’s not to say that music was not important to my life—it was, and the rack of cassette mixtapes that I painstakingly recorded during this period is proof—but during this period there was a ton of music that I heard on the radio, liked, maybe even owned, but never paid attention to in the way that I was able to do when I was younger. And that’s OK, because I wouldn’t have traded any of the things that happened during that period (except for some of my time at some of the law firms. Ugh.) 

The Lemonheads, and their song, “It’s A Shame About Ray,” falls into that category. I seriously doubt that I ever heard any of their music before the album of the same title, and while I’ve bought a bunch of their music since, it sits in my iTunes library and occasionally plays when I’ve set my music to play on random. By the way, have I mentioned that I turn 60 today, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I still buy music and use iTunes (and an iPod, although it is the biggest-ass iPod they make)? So I don’t know about their early, indie work, and can’t wax poetic about their deep tracks or opine about the quality of the band’s various lineups. 

Which is why I’ve chosen to write about “It’s A Shame About Ray,” probably one of their most popular songs, if not the most popular. (Their cover of “Mrs. Robinson" was a hit, too.) It’s a great song, jangly and catchy and poppy and vaguely mysterious. What’s it about? I’ve seen two different explanations, both from singer and writer Evan Dando, who, I understand, liked to mess with the press. Also, he used lots of drugs. 

One thing that is pretty clear, though, is that it was written in Australia, in collaboration with Tom Morgan, who was the lead singer for the Australian band Smudge. One explanation was that they met a guy in Melbourne who called everyone “Ray,” which gave them the idea to write a song by (or for) every man. Another explanation was that they saw a headline about TV talk show host named Ray Martin who had lost his job in the newspaper with that phrase and wrote a song around it. Which sounds more likely to me. (I still read a paper newspaper every day. Have I mentioned…..) 

The video for the song was directed by Jesse Peretz, the original bass player for the band, who had moved on to directing, and has had a pretty successful career in that line of work, and featured Dando’s then-friend Johnny Depp (Dando dated Kate Moss after she and Depp split, leading Dando to remark, “We were really good buds until I slept with his girl.”) Here’s the video:

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Head: Over My Head


[purchase Fleetwood Mac (White Album]

More than once here I have professed fealty to Fleetwood Mac.

In the early '70s, Fleetwood was on my playlist: Future Games and Bare Trees, But the musical style of Peter Green  was not the same as what the band was producing after he left.  <Mystery To Me> followed by <Heroes Are Hard to Find> filled my mid-'70s heavy play list. Bob Welch and Bob Weston had replaced Green on guitar:  songs like Hypnotized & Bermuda Triangle. It was after this, in the later part of the mid-'70s with the addition  of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks  that the band hit big time commercial success.

The song above comes from the first album with Nicks and Buckingham, sometimes called the White Album, and it charted at the top of the US Billboard list including a handful of top twenties. It took 10 years to produce their next, Rumours, aptly named amidst a period of difficult relationship issues.

In this version, Lindsey Buckingham's minimalistic guitar playing comes across well: a case of less is more. Buckingham's solos are as sparse as they are effective: harmonics ... repeated notes with effect... 

It is not just Buckinghim who is effective in his use of sound: the whole band is tight to the point that this live performance rivals the studio version, where they would have had more control of the final result. As ever, there's the two stalwart members who've been there throughout the years: John McVie and Mick Fleetwood laying down the essential backbone of the music: the drums and the bass.

And, considering that hypnosis is in the head: