World Behind Curtains is, in many ways, a befitting title for the exquisite second album by Israeli guitarist/composer Yair Yona. Tel Aviv is a bustling modern metropolis, but for a musician whose medium is compositional steel-string guitar steeped in a hearty influence from underground/experimental rock and jazz, that locale can
feel as isolated and shrouded from the rest of the world as can be. For all of his inherent geographical challenges, Yona has managed to circumnavigate these obstacles by virtue of sheer energy, dedication to his craft, and a spouting fountainhead of creative talent - opening those curtains incrementally wider in the process. His debut, Remember, initially released by the Tel Aviv-based label Anova and reissued by Strange Attractors in 2010, was embraced early on by the grassroots underground solo guitar cognoscenti, and championed by steel string guitar and compositional hero Glenn Jones. Word rippled steadily outward, attracting the attention of Pitchfork’s The Out Door column which tagged it as one of 2010’s best, and Yona nabbed an official invite to perform and speak on a panel at the heralded Hopscotch Festival in September 2011. World Behind Curtains peels back any artificially obscuring veils to reveal an artist blossoming into a profoundly dynamic and expressive composer, with his finest and most ambitious set of tunes to date. Anchored by chiming steel string guitar, World Behind Curtains marks the ascendance of Yair Yona from solo steel string acolyte into master arranger, pulling the post-Takoma school of playing along with him into beautifully festooned cathedrals of sound. His exuberant attack on the acoustic guitar can be aggressive and ripe with punk rock muscle, only to return with graceful and yearning fingerstyle caresses. Each of the eight compositions on World Behind Curtains sparkle with multi-instrumental color, alternating between full string arrangements, piano, horns, chimes and splashes of electric guitars. Yona’s 12-string undulates rhythmically in opener “Expatriates” as it careens into caverns of feedback, only to spill into the gently moving currents of “It’s Not the Heat (It’s the Humidity)”. A nod to one of Yair’s greatest inspirations, “This One’s For You, Glenn” harkens to Glenn Jones’ cinematic take on the solo steel string tradition, with a forward-propulsion that combusts into a furious pace tempered by the choral yearnings of horns, only to flame out with electric guitar and an abrupt gypsy-like about face. Through the densely layered prism of Yona’s musical perspective, Leo Kottke is melded with Godspeed You! Black Emperor; James Blackshaw collides with Eastern European gypsy music; Robbie Basho finds solace in the enveloping arms of 70’s AOR-style piano arrangements. World Behind Curtains marks a turning point in Yair Yona’s development as an artist. Make no mistake, this is not a steel string guitar album; this is an instrumental record, ambitious and singular in scope. May it serenade many late-night forays into richly colored realms of self-reflection – with the drapes spread emphatically wide.
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