High-Voltage Israeli-Americana Cross-Pollination from Lily Henley

by delarue

In her own individualistic way, violinist/singer Lily Henley encapsulizes the two most happening sounds coming out of New York right now: Americana and gypsy music. But what she writes isn’t either straight-up country or gypsy music. Her Americana songs often reflect her New England Conservatory training. Her darker, more Middle Eastern tinged material draws on her immersion in Sephardic music – she credits a three-year stay in Tel Aviv as being transformative. She’s playing the final show of her Tuesday night residency at Pete’s Candy Store on April 30 at 10 PM. As is the case with pretty much any good musician who bridges two musical worlds, she has a deep address book to draw from and varies her supporting cast from week to week. Her new album Words Like Yours has purist production from Omer Avital, another eclectic player, who made a name for himself as a jazz bassist before embracing his Middle Eastern roots and taking up the oud.

The lineup on Henley’s album is characteristically diverse: Haggai Cohen-Milo on bass, the Deadly Gentlemen’s Dominick Leslie on mandolin and mandola, Duncan Wickel on five-string fiddle and Tony Trischka collaborator Jordan Tice on acoustic guitar. The opening track, Two Birds immediately sets the tone, the doomed foreshadowing of its flight metaphors set to tricky metrics and spiky mandolin, Henley’s powerful voice soaring as the absolutely gorgeous, anthemic chorus kicks in. She adds extra intensity to the traditional Sephardic song Dark Girl via biting Celtic violin riffage. Hummingbird builds matter-of-factly toward a bittersweet, blues-tinged Appalachian vibe, while the Sephardically-toned Her Song, like the opening track, rises energetically but uneasily to a singalong chorus and then a nimble, chromatically-fueled guitar solo from Tice.

Pink Rose, with its moody layers of violin and meticulously melismatic vocals, is the most otherworldy, Balkan-sounding song here – yet when Henley raises her voice on the second chorus, she evokes a young Dolly Parton. Only Once is a “R&B” song in disguise: trade the acoustic instruments for cheesy computerization and it would be pretty indistinguishable for something you’d hear in a shopping mall. The album ends with Bluz Kna’ani, a bitter, crescendoing anthem by Israeli songwriter Ehud Banai that winds up as an Irish dirge. Folks, this is the future of music: are we living in a golden age or what?