Saturday, July 18, 2009

VIEUX FARKA TOURE - Fondo (Six Degrees)

Vieux Farka Touré’s debut album took as a starting point his late father Ali’s marriage of traditional Malian music and blues, lacing it with the electric blues guitar and reggae that Vieux himself so clearly loves. He promised at the time that the follow-up would be “more Vieux”, and a clue as to what that meant was given by subsequent concert performances where a tight four-piece set-up centred on Vieux’s beefy uncoiling lead guitar runs, with plugged-in ngoni and kit drum driving the sound towards blues-rock territory. That template is very much to the fore on much of Fondo, with Vieux utilising spacious arrangements to frame tunes that draw as much on American electric blues as that of his father or desert blues contemporaries such as Tinariwen. He’s such an accomplished musician that he can impress merely by virtuosity alone, and on tracks such as Souba Souba – where he weaves crackling rhythms around Yossi Fine’s crunchy ngoni fills – his development as a musician (and vocalist: his soulful voice evidence of increased confidence and control) is bold and impressive. However, a few of the songs clang and clank but don’t quite convince, coming across as slightly directionless blues jams that have emerged from the same VFT-by-numbers wellspring of noodling fretwork (one such is even entitled Slow Jam). Despite that, there remains the sense of a musician who knows how to mix and match influences in an engaging manner, again employing hints of reggae (the skanking Diaraby Magni is impressively dubbed-up) and acoustic music in the return of guests Afel Bocoum (vocalist/guitarist on three songs) and Toumani Diabaté on kora on the instrumental Paradise. Overall, Vieux Farka Touré’s second album finds the young Malian taking another step away from the traditional to the modern with confidence and no shortage of skill. If Fondo stutters in places, it’s as a result of his increasing belief in his own song-writing ability (all but one track is self-composed) and eagerness to forge his own musical path.

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