Band garners global following, but its heart is on the moshav

In 1977, San Francisco’s charismatic “singing rebbe,” Shlomo Carlebach, and a group of followers founded a musical moshav in the hills between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Ben-Zion Solomon was one of those first settlers at Moshav Meor Mod’im. Years later, his three sons became the core of a band that carries on the Carlebach tradition, influenced by the Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Van Morrison recordings their parents played, and seasoned with the rock music of today.

Brothers Yehuda, Meir and Yosef Solomon, joined by David Swirsky on vocals and guitar, make up the Moshav Band, a group that manages a delicate balancing act between the sacred and the secular. The members of the Moshav Band began composing, performing and touring in their teens, and moved to Los Angeles in 2000. But their hearts remain on the moshav, as anyone listening to their latest CD, a compilation of “greatest hits,” will quickly realize.

“The Best of Moshav Band: Higher and Higher” contains songs in English and in Hebrew — more of the former as, in the early recordings, the group sought to garner an international following. There are homesick songs, peace songs and some new takes on ancient liturgical themes. Several, like the title track, “Higher and Higher” are adaptations of Carlebach songs. And, although the high they sing of is a religious one, their rendition is as hip and cool as any rock band around.

“Come Back,” a kind of love song to Israel, interpolates a Celtic instrumental riff worthy of a Michael Flatley show — but the song is pure rock with a country-and-western twang. “Wake Up” also is country-and-western but it talks a serious story, not unlike “American Pie” or “Sounds of Silence.”

As much as they acknowledge their debt to their rabbinical and musical mentor (they have expressed a belief that he is still with them in some mystical way), the musicians of the Moshav Band credit Pearl Jam with much of their inspiration. And for all their rocking, these guys can sing sweet.

“Ufduyey” is a Carlebach piece about the prophecy of Jeremiah that has all the lyricism of an Israeli folk melody, spiced up with an explosive mandolin solo. “Bereshit” has a faintly Latin sound, and “Shabbos Kodesh” harks back to the Breslav Chassidic sect of the Solomon brothers’ childhood and combines klezmer with Middle Eastern effects.

There are a couple of sardonic songs about love — “If Someone Falls in Love With Me” and “Some Love,” recorded live at B.B. King in New York. “Eliyahu Hanavi,” the familiar Passover song about the coming of the Messiah, is much more interesting in the Moshav Band version than the droning, repetitive melody sung around most seder tables. “Lost Time,” possibly the most powerful track on the disc, talks about leaving the familiar life of the moshav and going out into the wider world, with the insistent refrain, “I’ll be on my way.” It’s terrific, as is just about all of the work on this album.

The Moshav Band’s sixth disc, “Malachim,” is due out in February. A preview song, taken from recording sessions, ends the disc.

The Best of Moshav Band: Higher and Higher (Jewish Music Group, $15.29) is available in record stores. Information: