November 12, 2019

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.