Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba: Routes [Twelve Eight, 2018]
With North Carolina-based bassist-ethnomusicologist Jonathan Henderson by his side, Cissokho laid down kora and vocal leads in his Senegalese hometown before the two flew back the U.S. to add parts from Stateside folk, jazz, and classical musicians, some of them members of Cissokho's North Carolina band and others not. In short, the kind of well-intentioned cultural crossover that normally turns to mush or treacle. But this moderately miraculous album remains both chewy and savory. From the string quartet that complicates the traditional opener "Alla L'a Ke" to the sabar drums and female backups that fill out the equally traditional follow-up "Badima" to the horn and string sections that bulk up the climactic "Naamusoo" and the bird tweets, indigenous flutes, and sabars again that introduce "Night in M'Bour"'s grand finale, a genuinely and often beautifully syncretic evocation of a double identity it would be hard to match and impossible to duplicate. A-