Thursday, October 02, 2008

BAABA MAAL - On the Road (Palm Pictures)

As the long wait continues for a new Baaba Maal studio album, and as his full-band concert performances start to edge into going-through-the-motions territory, this collection of live acoustic performances from the past ten years is a welcome reminder of the Senegalese singer at his intimate, unadorned best.
The configuration where one or two picked acoustic guitars and kora or xalam create a natural, spacious swing to Baaba's songs is one of the most pleasing musical frameworks in music, enabling Maal's soaring force of nature of a voice to ring out with clarity and passion. Established concert favourites such as Baayo - a tender, hypnotic mainstay of Baaba's live performances – and Cherie from 1998's Nomad Soul album (here in improved, rawer form) exemplify this, but as you’d expect from an album that is proclaimed as a “Bootleg Edition “, there are rare and previously unreleased tracks too for hardcore Maal fans to savour. The best of these is the previously cassette-only Farba, a gratifyingly raw and rough-edged xalam-led offering with call and response vocals. Is that the rich timbre of long-time collaborator Mansour Seck on this track? Unfortunately, the CD notes are as sparse as the instrumentation, with scant information about accompanists or dates and locations of performances, so we can't be sure. It's easy to recognise the sharp, melodic kora work of the late great Kaouding Cissoko though, and on Koni it's locked down by a characteristic Baaba Maal circular guitar-picking rhythm, and it’s lit up by a judiciously restrained Ernest Ranglin solo electric guitar spot.
At nine tracks and under forty minutes in length, On the Road serves as a decent enough stop-gap release, but with Baaba Maal tied up on so many worthy projects in his native Senegal, one wonders when he'll find time to lay down a full, original studio album. When he does get round to it, musical fare along the lines of the simple, stripped back, melodic songs showcased here would be most welcome.

Baaba Maal Website

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