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Asaf Avidan and the Mojos: The Reckoning

Reviewed By: Lisa Torem
Label: Columbia
Format: CD

Like tightrope walkers performing without a net, Israel-based Asaf Avidan and the Mojos perform their unbelievable tracks with unabashed confidence and abandon. Receiving ‘The Israelis Best New Artist’ award and lauding a support slot by Morrissey may have also convinced the world of their promise.

‘The Reckoning’ is their debut album. Asaf hopes to attract a world-wide audience and says: “We drink from the cultural well of our history, but our music is universal – equally meaningful to someone in Dubai or New York or Tel Aviv. I write about relationships, about love, death and beyond, how strange our short stay here on this world is. You don’t need any particular passport to understand that.”

An ambitious fifteen original songs, penned by Avidan, are contained within a handsome cover (designed and illustrated by Michelle Rolland/Lilach Schmilovitch) on which illustrations of natural artifacts, such as fossils and seashells appear.

Inside is a gorgeous lyric book featuring a close-up of the five-member band: Asaf Avidan (vocals, guitars), Hadas Kleinman (cello), Ran Nir (bass), Roi Peled (lead Guitar0 and Yoni “Joni Snow” Sheleg (drums). The band follows every vocal line with pristine energy and awareness.

With a voice as mesmeriaing as Joplin and as seductive as Robert Plant, Asaf writhes in bluesy anguish and aches in a free-wheeling fashion that’s emblematic of 60s authenticism.

‘Maybe You Are’ is the opener and the words reflect this honest approach, “She peeled his skin away, so every day he’d cry/And in those tears he’d lie to find some peace.”

The instrumental backing picks up exuberantly in ‘Hangwoman.’ This rockified-blues incarnation rants and Asaf adds some early Elvis-type innuendo. Immediately following is the jangly reggae of ‘Her Lies’ with its pungent riffs.

‘Weak’ is another extraordinary tell-all heart-wrencher. “Speak, baby, speak, tell me I’m weak/Tell me I’m ugly, but tell me you love me.” The double-tracking production enhances the haunting vulnerability of the message.

Then, the flamenco beginnings of ‘Reckoning Song’ form a brief respite before ‘Sweat & Tears’ proclaims an edgy samba feel and a suspenseful escalating merge of strings come forward.

‘Rubberband Girl’ is unpasturized rabid punk dripping with attitude and ‘A Phoenix is Born’ enlists a sci-fi, fantastical visceral magnetism. This is amazing, considering the melismatic vocals are so primitive.

‘Over You Blues’ utilizes brilliant slide. The words are tongue-in-cheek, but natural. Another song in that same genre is ‘Empty Handed Saturday Blues’ which is brilliantly swarthy. Asaf’s uncanny ear allows for some fascinating vocal riffs.

‘Growing Tall’ has an irresistible Johnny Cash rhythm. It’s a definite contrast to ‘Devil’s Dance’, which, with lush evocative strings and raw imagery may be the most succulent track of all, but it’s such a challenge to choose. “Lying on the road/waiting to be crushed,” Asaf contemplates, in this emotional requiem.

Epic in thought, execution and imagination, ‘The Reckoning’ is a genuine masterpiece and an even more startling debut. Asaf Avidan and the Mojos transcend every genre they pursue.

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