No pretensions: Israeli indie folk darling Maya Isacowitz returns for series of sold out shows in Israel

by Brian on September 30, 2013

in Music,Reviews

Maya Isacowitz in concertMaya Isacowitz came roaring back into town, putting on a sold-out show last week at Jerusalem’s Yellow Submarine club that lived up to the expectations many had for the pint-sized redhead Israeli indie/folk singer-songwriter, who last performed in the capital nearly a year ago.

Isacowitz’s absence was not due to any falling out with the city; rather she’s been trying her luck in the Big Apple for much of 2013. Indeed, she really only flew in for the High Holiday season and will be heading back to New York by the end of the month, where she’s currently in the middle of recording her second album.

Isacowitz’s New York experience (“overwhelming and confusing,” she says) was fodder for some of her between-song patter, and it’s part of what makes her so endearing: she speaks with her fans as if they’re family, telling stories about her mother’s cooking and over-protectiveness as she launches into an achingly beautiful tribute to the woman she says, with no pretension, that she “loves so, so much.”

That Isacowitz could be found in the lobby signing CDs right after the show, posing for pictures and modestly mingling with her fans, further drives home the “she’s one of us” feeling that doesn’t seem part of an act.

And, while she clearly owns the stage with her big voice, a cross between Alanis Morisette, Joan Osborne and Tracy Chapman, with a little Tori Amos thrown in for good measure, it’s not hard to imagine the shy girl from Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch in Israel’s north who, through her own admission, was too timid to play more than a few well-worn cover songs when she performed for the first time at an open mic night just a few years ago. (Now 26, she only picked up the guitar, she says, at age 14.) Maybe it’s the way she demurely swallows her words, Michael Stipe-like, when she sings, but it’s clear Isacowitz won’t need to twerk to prove her chops.

Isacowitz’s first album, Safe and Sound, came out in 2012, and has nearly gone gold in Israel, selling just under 20,000 copies to date. She was named “Discovery of the Year” by the Israeli music licensing group ACUM and she’s received extensive airplay on Israel’s top music station, Galgalatz.

Her performance last week included her longtime collaborator and cousin, Shai Lochoff, on guitar, percussionist Keren Tepperberg and string virtuoso Eran Weitz, who played electric guitar, banjo and an instrument called a pedal steel, essentially a steel-string guitar laid out horizontally like a piano, which added an slightly country twang to many of her songs.

Isacowitz’s one-hour set (with another 20 minutes of encores) covered her biggest hits from Safe and Sound, which are entirely in English (her parents immigrated to Israel from South Africa and she grew up speaking English at home).

Isacowitz previewed several new tunes that suggest we may be hearing a harder-edged folk direction on her forthcoming album. She closed the show with her sole Hebrew number, the tender/angry shout-out to relationship woes, “Ein Li Manos” (I have no choice).

This review appeared originally on The Jerusalem Post website.

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