Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Youssou N'Dour: Senegaal Rekk [Prince Arts EP, 2016]
Alerted to this May EP in August when a friend in Prague sent me a YouTube link, I playlisted it on Spotify briefly before it vanished, learned that it can be purchased from Apple in Europe but not here, declined free downloads from websites poised to pass my passwords to Carter Page, and finally snagged something I could burn when a magician I know Dropboxed me. The label is a mystery, the title sometimes spelled "Senegal" and/or "Rek," and though I've read that an "international" iteration called Africa Rekk is expected late November, who knows what exactly it'll be. So try YouTube and be vigilant. As someone who's adored him for all of this century, what I hear in these songs I don't understand a word of is more specifically Senegalese than his Nonesuch catalogue and more tightly conceived than 2012's live Mballax Dafay Wax--a tensile spirituality sorely missed from American music in a year whose horrific downside is regularly sidestepped or ignored. The arrangements enact a tempered, unrelenting responsiveness in which lives lived under lifelong pressure aspire to a transcendence that's actively treasured. A voice that has begun to weather rises to moments of startling sweetness and lyricism. The Senegal-raised Akon has a strong cameo that's the dullest thing on the record. A