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First Listen: Israeli Singer Asaf Avidan

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Occasionally, our friends at NPR Music come by to talk about the artists they're listening to - part of the series First Listen. Today, we'll hear new music from one of Israel's most popular singers, thanks to All Songs Considered hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton. Singer Asaf Avidan's new album is called "Gold Shadow."

ROBIN HILTON, BYLINE: Bob Boilen, let's have everyone listen to this music and just paint a picture of who we're hearing. Is it a man? A woman? Young, old?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVER MY HEAD")

ASAF AVIDAN: (Singing) I'm in over my head, dragged back from the dead.

BOB BOILEN, BYLINE: I had the same issue. I was driving down the road - didn't know what I was listening to and assumed this was a older, female bluesy singer - actually hit a red light, did the quick Google search at the red light and up popped this photograph of this sort of young, very handsome, bearded fellow and discovered that Asaf Avidan is - something every Israeli probably knows - one of the biggest-selling artists there and an amazing singer with a remarkable voice.

HILTON: You mentioned the blues. And the song that we're hearing now has a lot of early-'60s soul in it. And those are just a couple of the sounds that he channels on this record. In fact, I don't know that I've ever heard so many different sounds and genres come together on a single record. There's the blues. There's folk. There's hip-hop, electronica, even flamenco guitar. But as you mentioned, at the heart of it all is Asaf Avidan's voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ODE TO MY THALAMUS")

AVIDAN: The clouds are gathering in the sky above. I know this one's going to hurt my love. Birds are shouting through the mangrove trees. They know the difference between a storm and breeze.

HILTON: Such an arresting singer. And it's this odd mix of Bob Dylan and Billie Holiday crossed together.

BOILEN: Yeah, well, you mentioned them. And I also think of Leonard Cohen, one of the greatest poets in all of music I'll say. His fascination with Leonard Cohen with his first lover. And she had heard the song with the word Eskimo in it. This is pre-Internet. They buy every Leonard Cohen record and listen, song-by-song, to try to find it. This is before Asaf Avidan was a singer. The love and this music all inspired him to become a singer. You'll hear it in the song right away.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LABYRINTH SONG")

AVIDAN: (Singing) Evening rises, darkness threatens to engulf us all. But there's a moon above. It's shining. And I think I hear a call.

BOILEN: Even in the inflection, even in the melody, you hear Leonard Cohen. And what a lyricist Asaf Avidan is. It's totally captivating - chilling.

HILTON: Yeah. Some very powerful lines on this record. I think of a track called "Bang."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BANG BANG")

AVIDAN: (Singing) I love you like the roots in the sand. And I love you like God loves his plan. I love you like death loves a man. And I love you like a gun in my hand.

HILTON: It is so unsettling - these lines. But I think it captures very evocatively what it's like when you love and lust after someone or something so much that it just feels like it's going to eat you alive.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BANG BANG")

AVIDAN: (Singing) I love you like chisel and stone.

MONTAGNE: Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton are the hosts of All Songs Considered. They were talking about the new album from Asaf Avidan, "Gold Shadow." And you can hear the whole thing on our website this week before it goes on sale. It's an NPR Music First Listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BANG BANG")

AVIDAN: (Singing) And I love you like my hand on a gun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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