Sunday, May 24, 2009

DABY TOURE and SKIP McDONALD - Call My Name (Real World)/SO KALMERY - Brakka System (World Village)

Despite a keen ear for a hook and an enviably wide-ranging instrumental ability, a criticism of Daby Touré in the past has been his tendency to smooth out his catchy tunes with generic singer-songwriter sheen. So hope was raised by recent reports of a more spiky side to the Mauritanian when he teamed up in concert with Skip McDonald, the gruff-voiced Little Axe man from Ohio. Add to that the presence of McDonald's On-U Sound-mate Keith LeBlanc on drums, and with Call My Name we're surely in for a six-song EP of bleeding-edge blues with a finely wrought West African melodic sensibility, right? Not quite, unfortunately. There's some good, grungy chuntering blues guitar here and there, Skip's sandpaper vocals contrasting well at times with Daby's smooth, woody timbre. But there are no real edges here; too much of the music has been smoothed out into a not-quite-blues that verges on the less interesting electric side of Touré's blander album fare. There can be no complaints about a lack of tunes - Touré probably reads the telephone directory at perfect pitch, and McDonald is a guitarist with a fine feel for whichever mood is required. But that mood is too often one of safety-first. The final, funky track Riddem offers the best clue as to the chance missed, a chunky blues that finds Daby much deeper in tone and LeBlanc hammering away for all he's worth. Next time, take these guys out of Realworld and into the other world of LeBlanc and McDonald's Tackhead dubscapes and we might have something worth talking about. Good, but could have been much better.

Daby Touré guests as bass player on the irresistible sing-along Calling, the closing track on So Kalmery's latest album titled after the urban dance style he practises. The former Papa Wemba guitarist is originally from the Congo, but there's nothing of that country's chiming soukous sound here, and in many ways the first few tracks arguably deliver what the Touré/McDonald combination promises - a straight out of the blocks blues-soul groove based on electric guitar and a tough percussive drive. Hey! Mama Liza has big, funky electric guitar lines, tough beats with a rhythmic similarity to New Orleans second-line strut, and a storming blues-rock hook. The next track Regea maintains the appeal, with soulful female backing harmonies adding variance to Kalmery's forceful vocal. The party fun continues in this vein pretty well all the way through, albeit the appeal of what is a relatively limited form takes its toll over a whole album (some rather tacky English-language lyrics don't help matters).The only exception is Kamitik Soul, which finds So Kalmery playing (quite beautifully) an oud backed by guimbri (Gnawa acoustic bass) and an Arabic backing vocal. A fascinating diversion on an interesting, upbeat set of urban dance songs.

Distributed in the UK by Harmonia Mundi

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