There’s something very special about Noa. She was born in Israel, and moved to the USA at a young age and then returned to Israel as a young woman. Coming from a Yemenite family, she integrates all three different cultures into her music. Her newest album “Genes & Jeans” is truly her most symbiotic collection of songs, and while most of the songs are in English, she includes a couple in Hebrew and also infuses a few with Yemenite passages. Gone are the days when you could pick out musical lines that were so obviously Pat Metheny (who promoted her during her early years and had a huge influence on her back then), she’s truly come into her own. Yes, there’s still a touch of Metheny in “The Eyes of Love”, but that song is really lovely, so there’s nothing wrong with that. Moreover, her voice has never sounded better and her soul comes through each and every song like a rushing river that will make your heart pound as you listen.
It’s hard to choose one song that I’d call my favorite here. Of course, in concert we get some of her old standards, but the album was truly represented there as well, and of course, her professional partner Gil Dor, whose amazing guitar skills shine through like a beacon while holding up every song like a solid rock. Still, if I was to choose the definitive song here, it would probably be the title track, which she carefully puts near the end of the album. Built upon a traditional Yemenite melody, with a modern twist to it, that’s mostly in English, with an injection of parts of a poem in Hebrew that talks about the flight of a dove and playing of music and song. Still, the song “Heart & Head” also brings all these elements together, as well. This song is a story about a Yemenite wedding – which according to her during the concert was inspired by her own wedding – that infuses both the fear and joy of the promise of the future. What’s really cool about this track is she got her grandmother to sing on it as well.
Some of the foreign language songs might be a bit difficult for you to listen to, but the one that I found was particularly fun was her 14th track here, which is called “El HaMa’ayan” which means “to the river”. The song is based on a traditional Israeli children’s song about a lamb that goes to the river. To this she adds improvised English lyrics, and introduces bits of the biblical story of Jacob, who had to work as a shepherd for 14 years in order to marry the woman he loved. My guess here is that she saw this story as a semi-parallel to her own life, where she had to wait and travel so much before she could marry her husband and have her two children. The songs “Dala Dala” (tracks 12 and 13) probably have the most mixture of Hebrew, Yemenite and English. The Yemenite/Hebrew translates into “slowly, slowly my love, so we shouldn’t be heard for if we are heard, I will be killed”, and this too tells a story – apparently an ancient Yemenite one, about lovers who have been forced to hide their affair for fear for their lives if caught. Listen to the bongo drums on this one, they really make the mood of this song effective. And speaking of percussion, if there’s one you might not recognize here, that would be the empty oil cans they beat on. You heard me right – in a few of these songs they’re beating and tapping on big, empty tins of olive oil or paint thinner, which gives a very unique sound.
Other songs which are obviously auto-biographic here are the flowing opening track “Waltz to the Road”, which has this wonderfully hypnotic guitar line underneath it that mimics the monotony of long-distance traveling. In her song “Dreamer” she projects her eternal optimism, and with “In Your Eyes”, she again brings Hebrew words and Yemenite music together in a song that talks about how her genetics have influenced who she is today. This particular song is dedicated to her grandmother, and rightly so. There’s a line in that song that goes “the village girl turned city cat/ desert in your velvet hat”. This is such a wonderful way of showing just how eclectic she is, both personally and professionally, that it totally blows me away. I also found the song “The Eyes of Love” to speak to me directly – as I too was ugly when growing up, fat with glasses and stringy hair, but I also found that true love sees what’s inside and not on the outside, so I personally appreciate that song. Finally, the last track “The Balancing Act” really tells us how she feels about her life in general – that she’s had this amazing career as well as having married this amazing man and had two beautiful children – all of which she’s doing a great job of balancing.
I have to say that “Genes & Jeans” is probably Noa’s best album to date, and everything I felt when I saw the concert comes through perfectly here as well. Noa has such talent and mixed with the equally amazing Gil Dor, the creativity here never stops. The album on the whole goes from melancholy to hopeful, from sentimental to exciting, with artistry that few can match even in one language. I adore Noa and she just keeps getting better and better.