Tel Aviv, a city on Israel’s Mediterranean coast and Northern Soul aren’t two things that readily spring to mind as a natural pairing. But there you go, life has a way of constantly surprising you, doesn’t it?
So when I was asked to have an earful of a Northern inspired band from there, to say I was both curious and skeptical in equal amounts would be about the mark.
Is there a Northern Soul scene in Tel Aviv? The surprising answer is – yes, there is. So if you find yourself there, look for the Tel Aviv Soul Club, and you might find yourself slip sliding away across a talcum-powder covered floor to Tel Aviv’s blend of classic Northern Soul 45s and early 1960s R&B and the chances are that those 45s will come out of the record boxes of brothers Johnnie or Bin Neeman, sons of an Israeli diplomat, that being the case they’d travelled extensively as children, discovering the wonderful world of rare soul on the way.
Tel Aviv Soul Club, aka TASC, came about via Yashiv Cohen, a DJ who, in 2006, lured the brothers Neeman and their soul collections into playing them to the Tel Aviv public. Yashiv is also the lead singer of Men of North Country (MONC), a Tel Aviv band, blending rock, British pop and soul, they’ve recorded two albums for Acid Jazz Records, and toured Europe numerous times.
Yashiv woke up one morning driven by the idea that MONC must create a spin-off, a more puristic soul band, called the Faithful Brothers (Neeman means Faithful in Hebrew). The Neeman/Faithful brothers would be joined by some of the members of MONC and a few more musical brothers from Tel Aviv to create new, original soul and R&B. The fact that the Neeman brothers were collectors, and not musicians did not bother Yashiv, he just sent Johnnie some lyrics, asking him to compose music for it. Well, Johnnie called Bin, and they met in Johnnie’s record room. With Johnnie playing some of the few chords he knew on an old acoustic. That’s how it started. It took a few years, but the brothers continued their musical progression, from collectors to DJs to musicians. Johnnie took his guitar, Bin took to the piano, and the brothers began using their influences to create new songs. The Faithful Brothers are now an eight-piece band, complete with a solid brass section. They’ve recorded some of the brothers’ songs as well as having their first live appearance, opening for and backing American soul artist Eli Paperboy Reed whilst he was in Tel Aviv.
The band is called The Faithful Brothers, and the LP is also named the same. So, what does the album sound like?
The album (in general) sounds like something Ian Levine would have put out on the Grapevine label, that’s not being dismissive, it’s very slick in production and clean, the album goes across the spectrum from Detroit four to the floor, to Philly, thence to more traditional R&B, even stopping off along the way for a bit of a funky Alan Hawkshaw type keyboard 60’s psych discotheque.
In general, it has a bit of a Stax feel to it, especially with those ‘rising horns’ behind vocal lines – and there’s a distinct Philly vibe going on too.
Yes… It’s ‘blue eyed soul’ but there have been other right crackers of that genre over the years haven’t there? I think they have a good chance to cross over the main stage too, think of the mass Appeal Amy Winehouse brought, or even the minor quake of John Newman… I digress…
The huge, huge plus point for me is that they are writing their own stuff (I’m not a fan of covers… unless they are done in an original / imaginative way.) Yes, the production is modern, but they do try to remain faithful to the faith. They have some neat little nods in the production too, such as the ‘click’ of the bass guitar that is a hallmark of sixties sound.
The instrumental ‘They don’t know’ could be a track straight from the studio of Gamble and Huff and would grace any dance floor given the chance. Put in the right DJ’s hands I’m confident that they’d get a good solid reception, but whether DJs at most events would play something ‘new’ and ‘original’ in their sets is a different question altogether. They should be heard, but a lot of DJs know how affixed of mind certain audiences are. Still, we can but try. Craig Charles has given them the thumbs up on his BBC Funk and Soul show and I can see why.
The 12 tracks on the album are… Let’s break the curfew, Tell me one more time, Crossroads of love, Crying clown, Dance my hurt away, Down uptown, Get it over, Joy, Night man, So low, The town I live in, They don’t know.
If you’re s soulie, casual or hardcore, I think there’s something in here for you, it’s like the old box of assorted choccies analogy, everyone will have a favourite somewhere. Go and have a listen and decide which is yours.
THE FAITHFUL BROTHERS – selftitled out on LP / Digital on Sep.15th 2023 via Mr. Mellow’s Music (northern soul / rhythm n blues)
Review by Rik Bardsley