Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-02-10


Omar Souleyman: Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts (Hydra Head, 2011) I don't know how I missed this guy, but though maybe his three earlier compilation-style albums on Sublime Frequencies render this one redundant, I doubt it--played blind, it grabbed me by the what-the? from the moment track two speeded things up and didn't quit till the end of track nine an hour and change later. A Syrian not to be confused with the Egyptian placeholder president of approximately the same name, Souleyman is a local wedding singer turned world-music attraction playing a supposedly dumbed-down, synthed-up, hickoid-metal variant of a major Levantine pop style called, how loosely or precisely I know not, dabke. Recorded in such exotic locales as Berlin, Melbourne, Philadelphia, and Kortrijk, Belgium, this delivers the kind of intensity Lester Bangs craved and almost got when he tore the shrink-wrap off the Count Five's Cartesian Jetstream. And don't nitpick--Lester couldn't understand the lyrics either. A-

The Original Sound of Cumbia (Soundway, 2011) Subtitled "The History of Colombian Cumbia & Porro: As Told by the Phonograph 1948-1979," this is a crate dig rather than a hits collection: two CDs culled from five years of rooting around among 78s by the prolific U.K. beatmaster-bandleader Bill "Quantic" Holland, who also provides 5000 words of fact-filled notes. There's not much of the surface sparkle of the Disco Fuentes cumbia comps here, but boy, are these guys determined to stand out and have fun. Few of the 55 three-minute dance tracks by 50-plus artists are catchy in the pop sense, but most boast a mark of difference--intro or small arranging trick, yodel or spoken byplay or Donald Duck voice or comic call-and-response or lead tuba or humorous squeezebox trickery. Accordions and a panoply of local percussion dominate the Afro-mestizo groove, so that the larger horn sections that materialize toward the end are almost buzz killers sometimes. Not the kind of album you put on craving greatness--the kind of album you put on craving company. A-

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