New York City based folk-duo Joanie & Matt are Joanie Leeds and Matthew Check, and they have a new album out on July 19th called ‘Sterling‘. On it Joanie & Matt have crafted songs for the marginalised, but have done this by working from their joint interpretations of what they describe as the “inherently misogynistic ancient texts from the Hebrew Bible“. Recrafting their Jewish heritage they have on ‘Sterling‘ created seven tracks that are provocative tales encompassing the #MeToo movement, the LGBTQ+ community and substance abuse; each chapter unfurling gritty honesty through a modern feminist lens.
Separately the pair have had what can be described as a pretty varied musical careers – Joanie has worked on Miramax Films, done record label work, then moved into clothing manufacturing while honing her music with evening performances around New York the city. One thing led to the next (including another solo album), and she soon found herself in the middle of children’s music, performing as a birthday party entertainer on the weekends. Matthew Check was the original banjo player with Gangstagrass, and has also recorded such niche works as a Bluegrass setting of the liturgy of the Friday night service “Kabbalat Shabbat”. However there were social and musical overlaps which brought Joanie & Matt together and, with a shared love of classic rock, they melded their disparate musical strands together for a new direction.
This first single from the album, ‘The One Above‘, is a rocks out re-imagining of the story of the Nasarites. This is moderately complicated – but fortunately Matt has explained all: “When the Israelites are in the desert, there is a group called the Nasarites, who dedicated themselves to God for various reasons. The way you dedicate yourself is by not cutting your hair or drinking wine or come in contact with dead bodies. There are a couple other laws but those are the most famous ones. One of the other themes emerging these days that’s no longer taboo is when people talk about their sobriety and how they’re trying to figure out their lives in terms of addictions. The classic substance of humanity is alcohol. So, I found it interesting how they would separate themselves from alcohol when alcohol is such an important part of Jewish tradition. This is a version of what we call “musical midrash.” I thought, “What if on a sociological level, the Nasarite laws came into existence because Moses realized there were a bunch of alcoholics.” [laughs] Maybe there was this understanding that there were people who just couldn’t handle their substances. Whatever the real backstory that isn’t understood in the context of history, that’s where the seed was planted.”
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