Lazer Lloyd: No Middle Ground in the Middle East
On first glance, Lloyd Paul Blumen (AKA Lazer Lloyd) looks far more like a rockin’ rabbi than your typical blues balladeer. It’s an impression, affirmed by his long grey beard and an air of blissful reverence, that comes not only from being a devoted, deeply religious resident of the Holy Land, but also from being wholly devoted to the blues. Roots and religion often coexist, but Lloyd manages to bind both threads via one transparent transition.
Lloyd’s roundabout journey is an unusual one, to say the least. Born in New York and raised in Connecticut, he attended Skidmore College, where he studied music under the guidance of Milt Hinton (who played bass with Louis Armstrong) and Randy Brecker of the Brecker Brothers, among others. After graduation, he formed a band that called themselves The Last Mavericks (not to be confused with The Mavericks, of alt-country fame) and attracted the interest of Atlantic Records, which subsequently made plans to send him to Nashville to record with E Street Band bassist Gary Tallent. However, Lloyd had other plans. After playing a gig in New York with Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, he was lured to Israel, where he’s remained ever since.
On his new self-titled album, Lloyd includes a song aptly entitled “Rocking in the Holy Land” that contains a biographical lyric which describes his musical journey thus far. “There were many places I had a chance to break my career from, and places that the record company thought I should break from,” Lloyd explains. “But man makes plans and God laughs – from a strange twist of meeting a homeless man in New York City’s Central Park, I played a concert with a hippie rabbi who convinced me to play with him in Israel … I fell in love, so I’m there more than 20 years.”
After a succession of bands, Lazer went solo, recording several albums, including 2012’s My Own Blues, which won the Israeli Blues Society’s prize for Best Israel Blues Album, and 2013’s acoustic entry Lost on the Highway, which garnered extensive airplay in the U.S., the U.K., and Europe. At the same time, he began expanding his reach from the clubs and coffee houses of his adopted country to the larger stages of the U.S., Europe, and Russia. He also established himself as a regular on the festival circuit.
“When Lazer Lloyd enters the zone onstage, his eyes close tightly and he begins a peculiar dance – partly Tevye in the shtetl, partly psychedelic free form shuffle,” The Jerusalem Post’s David Brinn wrote, describing one performance. “He handles his guitar like it was an extension of his lanky but sturdy body, and the glorious noise that it emits sounds like wails and squeals emerging directly from his soul. He’s lost in the moment. He’s the best guitarist in Israel.”
Given sufficient attention, Brinn’s assessment may have to include a wider reach. On his new self-titled album, Lloyd wails like Jimi Hendrix in full flight, especially on songs like ”Set My Soul Free and “Love Yourself,” songs with a sound that seems to aim for the stratosphere. The soulful ballad “Never Give Up” and a faithful remake of the Otis Redding chestnut “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” show off his sensitive side, but his many references to his religious faith suggest Lloyd’s sentiments often veer to the spiritual. Lazer may be a religious man but he clearly considers himself blessed by the blues.