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V/A - Soul Messages From Dimona

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Artist: V/A

Album: Soul Messages From Dimona

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: May. 5, 2008

Communal, utopian visions engaged a lot of people in the 1970s. Spirit-centered ways of living offered hope as the burned-out hulk of the idealistic 1960s smoldered with the anger and violence of Nixonian dread and inner-city ruin. On the south side of Chicago and in tense Detroit, the Black Hebrew movement grew, bringing (along with an idealistic social vision and a passion for community organization) a strong, assured, and uplifting new musical synthesis that combined soul roots with psychedelic funk, gospel fervor, and an Old Testament message. After a harrowing exodus to West Africa, where many of the movement’s musicians were caught up in the life-threatening ironies of racial hatred and misunderstood cultural identity, the music at last found a place to thrive in Israel – in the desert city of Dimona, already heavily populated with North African Jews.

All this makes for a fascinating little slice of American musical/cultural history indeed. But even better, the best of the music collected here is itself a revelation, with its up-front blend of social anger and spiritual joy riding grooves and arrangements that are absolutely equal in imagination and execution to any better-known soul and funk of the 1970s.

Some of the tracks on this collection pay obvious tribute to the soul hit parade back home in the old country: The Tonistics’ “Holding On” comes off like vintage Jackson 5, with a weave of young voices over a scratchy soul-funk groove. The Sons of The Kingdom’s “Hey There” is very definitely in the urban mid-western sweet-soul, falsetto-and-harmony vein, delivering an indictment of racism and urban decay.

The Soul Messengers, both as back-up band and on tracks under their own name, are utterly magnificent. They blend funk, soul, fusion jazz, and incendiary gospel into a whole that sounds both seamless and full of surprises: the hard rock wa-wa guitar and afro-beat horns on “Burn Devil Burn”; the slow-building, African-percussion- driven atmospheric drama of “Messiah.” This ensemble carried musical riches beyond measure, including smart, punchy horn work, great lead and chorus vocals, tight drums and bass, right-on Fender Rhodes and B-3 organ colors, jazz-savvy blues-tinted electric guitar. The sheer variety of moods and styles the Soul Messengers could generate is stunning: “Go To Proclaim” is a perfectly-crafted Memphis Willie Mitchell/ Al Green homage, complete with snappy snare, tight horns – and an emotive lead vocal in Hebrew. “Our Lord and Savior” is a disco-funkified Hebrew-language rewrite of Steam’s “Na-Na-Hey-Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye”).

Among the remaining tracks are some other sounds that make one take notice. The Spirit Of Israel ripples out a lilting reggae beat with female chorus hooks on “A Place to Be,” over which the singer croons – Sam Cooke style – a paean to the joys of peace, love, family and community that come with getting back to the land in the Israeli countryside.

The Numero label has given us some fine re-issues of nearly-forgotten music; this one might well rise to the top of the list. Shedding light on some still fresh-sounding possibilities for soul and funk, the undeniably spirited – and spiritual – music on Soul Messages from Dimona shines with delight and surprise.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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