Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Vieux Kanté: The Young Man's Harp [Sterns, 2016]
By the time he died unexpectedly in 2005, this blind 31-year-old from rural Mali had gained more physical facility and technical smarts on his modified 12-string kamele ngoni, a hunter's harp, than Bassekou Kouyate on his enlarged djele ngoni, a griot's lute. His music was less crowd-pleasing and propulsive, and he didn't have a wife to sing lead or young male relatives he could hand showpieces. But he did get to cut this one never-released album, and with the gritty baritone of Kabadjan Diakite augmenting his clear, nasal tenor on three of seven tracks, it's quite the showcase. Definitely dig the spare opening instrumental "Sans Commentaire." And if you're afraid his virtuosity is over your head, pay attention to the minute that begins around 1:25 of the climactic "Kono," where Diakite's vocal is decorative throughout. A-