Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Béla Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart [Rounder, 2009]
Despite what one justifiably fears from the white-hand-on-black-hand photo that effectively authenticates the booklet, the banjo fusioneer's musical tourism stands firmly on the delightful side of cute for two thirds of a generous CD. Rejecting Afropop for village musicians and/or homegrown preservationists, Fleck brings in some impressive second attractions for the cut or two they're worth--Malagasay man of the world D'Gary, South African go-getter Vusi Mahlasela, Malian super-sideman Afel Bacoum. He gets on with Oumou Sangare, overdubs welcome soloists into a D'Gary jam recorded in Nashville, duets with a balafon so huge it's commandeered by 35 Ugandans, showcases a blind mbira master who sings like a bird on a song about singing like a radio. Nine tracks from Uganda and Tanzania and none from Nigeria or Congo is funny demographics and the album tails off into debt paying and musicianly hypersubtlety. But this is the rare folkie travelogue that goes somewhere. A-