Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-04-19


Ustad Massano Tazi: Musique classique andalouse de Fès (Ocora, 1988) Sufi Arab-Andalusian healing music attributed to Ziryab, the legendary "Black Songbird" from Baghdad who Ned Sublette conjectures became a prototypical guitar hero in the court of Cordoba circa 800--a fashion plate and oenophile who supposedly knew 10,000 songs, added a fifth string to his lute, developed his own compositional system, and invented toothpaste. No one knows the facts, of course--the notes say he was based in Granada, for instance--and claims that this is how compositions we're not even positive he wrote sounded a millennium ago seem inflated. Some things are clear, however. The gut-stringed and sometimes hide-backed instruments here haven't been used regularly since the 18th century. The proportion of bowed violins etc. has been reduced from the modern norm. Whatever we think of the theories of humors and elements that underlie Ziryab's system, his cosmology honored timbre above all. And whatever the performers think of those theories, they're Sufi mystics who believe in the music itself. Alternating the vocal and the instrumental, the rhythmic and the arhythmic, the high and the low, the result is lighter and less hypnotic than the Sufi healing music of Oruj Guvenc. Some of its more contemplative sections require dedicated listening, and its timbres take a while to sink in. But that's what timbres are so good at doing, and eventually these calmatives make themselves enjoyable and make themselves felt. A-

tUnE-yArDs: w h o k i l l (4AD, 2011) Leaping and flowing, growling and crooning, exclaiming and explaining, stopping short for horns and glitches you had no idea were coming, Merrill Garbus's second album has the tune power and groove appeal normal music lovers put on repeat. And if too many normal music lovers think it's abnormal, at least she's hired a bassist, not to mention a studio into which at least a dozen other living musicians are suspected to have ventured. I don't suppose it'll help much to venture that Garbus contains in one person the finest attributes of Captain Beefheart and Phoebe Snow, not with the former a demigod and the latter a footnote. But she does reconstitute roots tonalities and procedures without hermeticism or egomania, and she does roll around in her enormous voice without bathos or undue expressionism. And though you won't wonder about the lyrics until you've had your fill of the music, she tells you what she has to say in the opening "My Country" and explores its ramifications for 10 songs and 42 minutes. "When they have nothing why do you have something?" she asks, with the "you" encompassing both herself and her country. "The worst thing about living a lie is just wondering when they'll find out," she warns, with the "they" encompassing have-nothings everywhere. That is, she deploys her superb music to address an issue so pressing few can stand to think about it: who kills who? A

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