Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2010-12-24

2010-12-24

Rachid Taha: Bonjour (Knitting Factory, 2010) In 2009 the Algerian-born internationalist set down in New York and recorded 10 terrific tracks sans Cantabridgian avant-eclectic Steve Hillage and avec Parisian chanson-rocker GaŽtan Roussel. On the whole they're prettier than his casbah-rocking norm, especially the love songs that open and close, and when he claims that the uncommonly cushy Middle Eastern beat on "Ha Baby" is actually part-country (as in Nashville country, really), you can half hear what he means. Quality dips ever so slightly tracks six-through-eight, including a celebration of ancient Arab-Jewish amity and a whispered one he IDs as "how to talk about death while staying alive." But my only real complaint is that there are no trots--just enticing descriptive phrases alongside mostly Arabic script, though not on the title track, which begins "Hello Kitty bonjour Violent Femmes." In a world where too many are set on paradise, I believe this guy is committed to the party of this world, which is also my party, and I want ever detail I can get. A

Rachid Taha: Diwan 2 (Wrasse, 2006) It's almost cheating--as on the 1998 Diwan, the rai-rocker simply raids an enormous store of popular music for surefire tunes few non-Arabic speakers have heard and fewer noticed. Many have a good beat, too, though not as frantic as Taha prefers. That's why he throws in two Steve Hillage-aided originals, both also aided by Kadi Bouguenaya, whose reed-blown flute sets "Ah Mon Amour" wailing. Still, the melodies carry the album--melodies an older Taha is singing with more heart and soul and arranging with fewer Cairo strings. The excellent translations sing love's passion more than they bemoan its pain. But the tunes make the sturm and drang seem worthwhile either way. A

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