7 May 2015
Blues From Holy Land
As far back as 1946, jazzman Mezz Mezzrow
wrote about the tonal similarities he found in
traditional Jewish music and the blues, and I
myself was struck by the same realisation much
more recently upon hearing "Yiddish Soul" by
the great Argentine-born Israeli clarinetist
Giora Feidman. That international blues artists
are welcomed in Israel is a well-known fact, too
– I'm sure many of our readers recall seeing a
certain 1960 photograph of  a king-size
on top of a somewhat distressed camel,
taken while on the road in Holy Land with
Memphis Slim.   

Eager to learn more, it was with great
excitement that I therefore unwrapped a parcel
straight from Israel, containing three CD's
mailed out by Nobody's Fault Productions – a
Tel Aviv-based agency that has set up tours in
the area for everyone from the late
to Bob Log III. While not all blues and
not even 100% Israeli, the records do provide
a rare glimpse into the roots music scene in
Holy Land and are thus best reviewed together.

Rev. KM Williams

The first out of the envelope was "Jukin' In the
Holy Land: Live In Israel", an album
documenting the first tour of the Middle East by
the Texas country bluesman and minister
KM Williams
– who incidentally looks, sounds
and even spells his name a bit like Finland's
resident British bluesman
L.R. Phoenix, most
recently of the N
orth Karelian Allstars. Both
rely heavily on the Mississippi Hill Country/Fat
Possum approach to the blues, and both can
pull off vocally convincing
Son House covers –
and that's saying something!
There are no writers' credits on the sleeve, but it seems to be a mix of originals
and reworked classics – with "Israel Boogie" in fact a faithful rendition of
's "Feelin' Good", "Trouble No More" a rewrite of the Wolf's "Killing Floor"
set to a different riff and with the phrase "killing floor" omitted, etc. Who does
get a credit on the sleeve is
John Lowe of Memphis, Tennessee for inventing the
Lowebow – a brand of cigar-box guitars familiar to the Finnish audiences from
Black River Bluesman's arsenal; Williams' one-string model is heard to great
effect on "Meet You At the Station", a stand-out track with Isreal's own
Bar Rashi
excelling behind the drum kit.

The rest of the album is split between electric and acoustic numbers, and while
it's all good, it's the acoustic ones that I like best – "Goin' Down the Tracks", with
Rashi backing the Reverend on washboard, is a particular highlight. Of course, if
you are a fan of the Fat Possum catalogue, the electric tunes are guaranteed to
impress, too – unlike so many recent "blues discoveries" from the Deep South,
Rev. KM Williams has quite a bit more going for him than just authenticity: this
gentleman can really sing and play. Recommended!  

Dani Dorchin

For the traditionalist, though, the "dressing" on "Jukin' In the Holy Land" may
seem a bit harsh on first hearing – the guitar overdrive too modern, Rashi's
drumming too contemporary and
Dani Dorchin's harmonica downright nerve-
grating at times. Dorchin's a good player, but an aggressive one, his style slightly
at odds with that of the majestically grooving Williams – and it doesn't help that
the harmonica sounds like it's been plugged into the PA through a distortion
pedal rather than through an amp, giving it plenty of bite but not enough bottom.

On Dorchin's own "One Man Band" album, the harp tone is considerably
improved. Recorded live in the studio, it presents Dorchin not just as a harpist
but also as a vocalist, drummer, songwriter – and a talented guitarist. With tunes
and riffs that ought to appeal greatly to fans of early
Black Keys, the cool guitar
sounds he produces deserve a special mention. However, playing several
instruments at once can be taxing, with drumming and singing the first to suffer,
so personally, I'd love to hear Dorchin with someone rhythmically inventive like
Rashi behind him on drums – but for fans of one man bands such as Denmark's
Nikolaj Andersen or Finland's Bad Mood Hudson, this should be a treat. Proceed
at your own peril!

Uzi Ramirez

And last, there's the album that's not really a blues album at all, nor even
pretending to be – although I must admit that looking at the sleeve of
' "Cheese In My Pocket", I did fear another blues rock guitar hero
monstrosity... I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised or more impressed
by what I heard: this album is a masterpiece, pure and simple, and if there was
any justice in this world, this is the stuff we would hear on daytime radio 24/7.

Imagine an album that features close to 30 of Israel's finest musicians playing
everything from French horns and tubas to vibraphones and glockenspiels on top
of the usual rock band fare. Imagine arrangements and approaches that evoke
Lee Hazlewood and the Kinks, the Beatles and Miles Davis, T. Rex and Bob
Dylan, Jimi Hendrix
and Dr. John – often within the same song. Imagine songs
that have intelligent and intelligible, well-crafted lyrics, but never at the expense
of the music. Imagine sounds that come across as contemporary and vintage at
the same time – violins and trumpets, choirs and wild electric guitars weaving in
and out without overpowering or crowding the tunes, ever. And all done with real
musicians actually playing their instruments...

And no, despite Uzi Ramirez' reputation as a "devil guitar picker" with
Ramirez Brothers, Kutiman Orchestra
etc., there are no extensive guitar solos
here – the ones that there are, are there for a reason. Need I go on? Mixed by
Adam Samuels (Daniel Lanois, John Frusciante, Brian Blade), mastered by Brian
(Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, Sigur Ros). Perhaps not for the die-hard blues
fan, but a must have for anyone with even a passing interest in rock and pop.


Rev. KM Williams: Jukin' In the Holy Land. Nobody's Fault Productions, 2014
KM Williams (guitar, vocals, Lowebow), Yonatan Bar Rashi (drums, washboard),
Dani Dorchin (harmonica)

Dani Dorchin: One Man Band. Dani Dorchin, 2014
Dani Dorchin (bass drum, snare, hi-hat, guitar, harmonica, vocals)

Uzi Ramirez: Cheese In My Pocket. Mountainmusicrecords, 2014
Uzi Ramirez (vocal, guitars, banjo, keyboards), Shacham "Chakamoon" Ohana
(bass, backing vocals), Tal Tamari (drums), The Extra Cheese Orchestra, The
Extra Cheese Choir

KM Williams, Dani Dorchin, Uzi Ramirez, Nobody's Fault

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