Yossi Banai.
Yossi Banai. His spirit prevails on the new album. Photo by Lihi Lapid
Text size

This album is a small miracle. If I had to choose one album from all the homage, tribute and appreciation albums for the greats of Israeli culture that have come out in recent years, "Shirim Ahronim" ("Last Songs" ) apparently would be the one.

My first thought is that it is a wonderful and moving tombstone for Yossi Banai, six years after his death, but Banai is so alive on this album - both as the lyricist and as the singer on two of the songs, and above all as the inspiration for the composers and other performers - that the word "tombstone" seems too inanimate and bleak. So maybe it would be better to use images that Banai himself sends soaring in one of the songs, "Bagilgul Haba" ("In The Next Incarnation" ) in which he plays with the thought of what he will become after his death - a small bird on a tree, a lily in some garden, a cluster of grapes, just a successful rhyme in a song. This album feels like one of those suggestions - light of foot, full of humor, saturated in simple, everyday beauty, loving life even when it is hurting him.

Banai intended to record these songs himself. He chose the composers (and sent the songs back for improvements, as Shlomi Shaban testifies in the disc notes ), and he also managed to record one entire song ("Tarnagol Kapparot" - "Scapegoat" ) and a sketch for another ("Love Song" ).

Banai died in May 2006 and the songs remained suspended in midair for a number of years. They were harvested, fortunately, by multi-instrumentalist and producer Rea Mochiach, who has treated them with a loving, creative and sensitive hand and has put together, along with an elect gallery of singer-composers, an album that unlike most albums with many participants does not sound like an eclectic assemblage but rather like a unified, focused and wonderful whole.

The unity derives of course from Banai's spirit, which prevails in every note of this album. "The anchor was to try to imagine Yossi all through the album, and to create a sense that Yossi's typical backing band had come, the reels of recording tape were rolling but the singer was tardy and familiar and beloved singers are singing in his stead," writes Mochiach in the album booklet. Beautiful words (one can imagine Banai saying the word "tardy" ), but even more beautiful is the listener's clear knowledge, long before they read Mochiach's declaration of intent, that this is exactly what happens on this disc.

Down-to-earth greatness

The participants in the album - Shaban, Micha Shitrit, Corinne Elal, Berry Sakharof, Arkadi Duchin, Ehud Banai, Yuval Banai, Idan Raichel, Maor Cohen and Peter Roth - composed music for the songs with the living image of Banai in mind but performed them several years later with his dead (yet so very much alive ) image in mind. This special situation led them to a very Banai-ish creative route - cheerful but sober, both rich and simple - and it seems that Banai's unthreatening greatness, his down-to-earth greatness, prevented the possibility of anxiety about what the master would say. In any case, the writing for Banai has elicited the best from nearly all the musicians.

The strength of this album is not that it contains gigantic and immortal songs. Don't look for a song like "Urban Night" - Natan Alterman's poem for which Banai wrote the music. Banai wrote songs that are modest and wise meditations on love and aging, the composers attached modest and incidental melodies to them, and Mochiach - who adapted, produced and played most of the instruments - dressed the words and melodies in light and elegant musical garments that flutter in the wind - clothes suited to an autumn afternoon walk along Ben-Yehuda Street, in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, it makes no difference which. Banai, as is known, was an honorary citizen of both cities. The only instance in which Mochiach has deviated from the nonchalant character of the adaptation, and wrapped Ehud Banai's voice and guitar in a dominant and unusual string section, produced a song whose musical stitching is too crude (Banai's melody is also too reminiscent of others of his songs ).

But this is my only reservation about "Last Songs," and an extremely minor one. The rest of the songs, without exception, range from very good to excellent, and some are moving in a very delicate way that is not characteristic of Israel 2012. Buy yourself a present for the holiday.