Koby Israelite an Accordion Beast!

Blues from Elsewhere
Asphalt-Tango records 3513
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Koby Israelite—born in Israel and now based in London--is one part Jimmy Page, one part Bob Dylan, one part Johnny Cash, and one part John Zorn—except he plays the accordion, not a guitar or saxophone. His latest is the aptly named Blues from Elsewhere, and the eponymous track sounds like Sephardic honky tonk. I’m not exaggerating about any of the influences noted above. Check out how he squeezes out the notes atop crunching power chords in “Accordion is the New Guitar,” and then give a listen to his cover of “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” I can doubt even Dylan could imagine the jump jive/power rock instrumental treatment, or Annique’s keening vocals. Israelite is full of such surprises. “Johnny Has No Cash No More” is where Texas two-step meets barrelhouse accordion; “Crayfish Hora” unfolds as if gumbo-crazed Jews were belly-dancing down Bourbon Street; “Take My Brain and Sell it to the Night” is like string band for the Andrews Sisters; “My Way the Right Way” a blend of rock, hand jive, and surf guitar; “Just Clichés” sounds like the soundtrack for an experimental cartoon made in the 1930s; “Kashmir” has the trippy dreaminess of a lost Yes composition; and “East of Nashville” is really east—like Tel Aviv. My first thought was that only Sharon Shannon pushes the accordion to such innovative extremes. Upon further reflection, she’s a piker compared to Koby Israelite.—Rob Weir


Selig Right to Tell Olympics to Take a Walk

Five words I’ve never before written: I agree with Bud Selig. The MLB commissioner has taken a hard line on baseball as an Olympic sport and true fans should applaud his actions. The 2012 Olympics (in London) dropped baseball and softball as Olympic sports, a decision that has spawned a grassroots movement to force the International Olympics Committee to reverse that decision. The kicker is that the same advocates also want professional players to compete. This would entail suspending the MLB season for two weeks in August every four years, a contingency that Selig rejected outright. He’s right. August is when the pennant races really begin to heat up and there is absolutely no reason for the leagues to suspend play for the sake of what is little more than exhibition games that promote corporate advertising and muscular nationalism. I’ll go Selig one better and say that all team sports should be removed from the Olympics. That would give the games a chance to recoup what little is left of the elusive “spirit of the Olympics.”

I mean that. No ice hockey, field hockey, cricket, basketball, or soccer either. But isn’t Olympic ice hockey exciting, you ask? It used to be–back in the days when occasionally a bunch of feisty amateurs could take on the state-sponsored Ruskies and occasionally win. But not now; the National Hockey League is the de facto World Hockey League. Not only do players from 20 nations suit up, more than half of the players now come from outside of Canada and the United States. So stop shutting down the NHL in February for meaningless games between players that already compete. Besides, like soccer (men’s and women’s) there’s already a World Cup. And for heaven’s sake, enough with the farcical “Dream Teams” in basketball! The NBA is also international in makeup, plus it’s boring enough during the season; we don’t need to see it in August, and we surely don’t need to see a bunch of pampered pros beating up on amateurs. This sort of thing is a relic of the Cold War, when (once again) the Russians won gold a few times by defeating US college players. Ancient history.

Dump field hockey, cricket, and other such sports as well; they are only played in a few nations and they also have world championships. If we must keep any team sports at all, let’s return to the rules that say that a person who has signed a professional contract to play (at any level) is ineligible for the Olympics. I’d also love to see an end to the grotesquely expensive and tacky opening ceremonies where nationalism is on display, plus a ban on “medals count” columns. The very idea that a nation “wins” the Olympics makes mockery of the ideals behind the games. We are supposed to marvel over the individual achievements of stellar athletes. Local pride is one thing, but wallowing in the collective national loot gathered by pro athletes in made-for-corporate-sponsors moments is grotesque. Congratulations to Commissioner Selig for not adding baseball to this farce. For once, this Bud’s for you! --Rob Weir


Oli Rockberger Release Lacks Solid Focus

Old Habits
Oli Road Records 0996

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Keyboardist Oli Rockberger has played with such contemporary music heavyweights as Jackie DeShannon, Levon Helm, John Mayer, and Oliver Mtukudzi. He’s also shared the stage with jazz luminaries the likes of Charlie Hunter and Les McCann, and with several hip-hop bands. As a sideman he’s eclectic, but his solo release Old Habits could really use some focus. It’s one of those albums that are so atmospheric that one longs for some grounding terra firma. It falls into no discernible genre, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if Rockberger were slicing some new grooves. Instead, the album feels more like an incompletely realized mélange. It has the cool detachment of smooth jazz, but lacks innovative breakouts or unifying musical themes. There are swells evocative of a rock anthem, but few identifying hooks; frenetic blended instrumentation the likes of a Loreena McKennitt composition, but they seem more like tack-ons than bridges; and quiet moments in which he comes off as a subdued Paul Simon, but without the melodic unity of folk music.  Rockberger’s keyboard work is solid and his vocals more than competent, but this is one of those unfortunate records that dissolve into the background as it’s playing. In short, it lacks “Ah ha!” moments that make it anything more than a backdrop against which life happens.
Rob Weir