Tinariwen – Tassili (2011) – B+
Ditching electric guitars, this becomes their warmest record; the most achieving of the album name, album cover, band name and tag that always comes with (“desert blues”). Nels Cline (who contributes guitar on the opener in one of those wouldn’t-know-if-not-for-Wiki) comments on the music’s exoticism, despite the familiarity of the elements (guitars; vocals). That’s the best way of putting it, and it’s true even when the language is familiar (Tunde Adebimpe sings the choruses of “Tenere Taqhim Tossam” (wisely released as a single) in English): this music makes me capable of imagining the African desert without ever having been, or even seen it in pictures. And what a spiritual/communal sound! Ibrahim Ag Alhabib’s lead vocals would have sold “Walla Illa” on their own, but hearing them bolstered by Tunde’s coo-ing makes them all the better. Elsewhere, “Tenere Taqhim Tossam” and “Imidiwan Win Sahara” have such lovely yet low-key grooves to them. Only “Ya Messinagh” doesn’t quite come off, due to the incorporation of horns from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (it doesn’t mesh perfectly); but even that one’s still a gem.
Bombino – Nomad (2013) – B+
I was just as surprised to learn the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach produced this one (and contributing bass guitar as well on “Niamey Jam”) as I was to learn he produced Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence the following year. And I’m happy that he did, because this one wouldn’t have got as much attention if he didn’t, and it definitely deserved some: “Asamane Tiliade” is an absolute scorcher of a song, and the reason why this is a hard ‘B+’ and not a ‘B.’ What searing guitar and vocals (wherein Bombino shouts what sounds like “A-HAaaa!”‘s to these occidental ears)! Yet paired to a groove and creating a swirl reminiscent of the best of late-60s’ psychedelia. (The lame video really emphasized that last bit.) The rest of the album is merely good, especially when songs are taken individually. But he’s a better guitarist than he is a songwriter, and not only do most of these songs sound the same, but the hooks are usually just the titles repeated, which don’t leave much to work with in the way of tune. In fact, most of these songs doesn’t bother developing beyond the main hook and lick, ie. “Imidiwan” (also the name of a Tinariwen song, which is the album’s most likable, appropriate for a title that translates to ‘friends’ or ‘companions’). The two songs that incorporate Western instruments into the fold (“Imuhar”, vibraphone; “Tamiditine”, pedal steel guitar) stand out for those regards, ditto the backing vocals of “Zigdan”, and I get kick out of the delightful clomp (like a dance around a campfire) of “Adinat.” His best album thus far.
Bombino – Azel (2016) – B
A better guitarist than he is a songwriter; a lot of it sounds the same, despite the reggae influence on some tracks. Which was surprisingly less of a case on breakthrough Nomad, what, with stuff like vibraphones on “Imuhar” and pedal steel guitar on “Tamiditine.” And I say surprising because Dave Longstreth is producing this one, and the best Dirty Projectors albums were capable of a lot of colour. The only noticeable difference between Longstreth’s production and Auerbach’s is that Longstreth seems to have upped the rhythm, giving us stuff like the bass-line that counterpoints with the guitar during the transition of “Iyat Ninhay / Jaguar” (maybe the album’s best song) or the bongos (?) that push “Inar,” with a riff wherein two notes practically glide out of the acoustic bed.