Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2013-05-03

2013-05-03

Omar Souleyman: Highway to Hassake (Sublime Frequencies, 2007) Souleyman's four Sublime Frequencies albums are similar enough to confuse the lay listener, especially one wary of letting backstory get in the way of the music itself. I tell myself I prefer 2011's Haflat Gharbia because it cherrypicks the non-Syrian performances of a shrewd guy who was by then a world traveler, but I'll never know for sure because it's also the first one I heard, an accident that can sway anyone's judgment. After many tries, I'm pretty sure this is my number two, so I was pleased to learn that it was the first best-of Mark Gergis sorted out for him. I'll also point out that although I fell for the breakneck pace of Haflat Gharbia, here the slow stuff is a respite. Since the subtitle is "Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria," it would seem possible that the slow equals the folk. But Gergis's useful notes make no such distinction. A-

Live From Festival Au Desert Timbuktu (Clermont Music, 2013) Recorded soundboard-to-Marantz two days before full war broke out and sharia began its forced march through northern Mali, this doesn't translate as readily as the first edition a decade ago. Although Saharan music has gone somewhat international since then, there's even less melody and groove, widely known acts are few, and of those both Tartit and Bassekou Kouyate fail to peak. But when I buckled down to listen to six straight unfamiliar names in the middle, I concentrated effortlessly as the first four demonstrated different ways men can yell at each other, with Odwa's "Tamnana" winning the argument. Then right after Khaira Arby's "La Liberte" made an ideological point, and later her guitarist Oumar Konate made a godly one. Inshallah, they'll once again be sure of their freedom to play their music a year from now. A-

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