Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Secret Museum of Mankind, Vol. 2 [Yazoo, 1996]
Hopping from Macedonia to the Society Islands, from Ukraine to Trinidad to Crete, Pat Conte has sequenced his "Ethnic Music Classics: 1925-48" for attentive listeners. A fun parlor game would be guessing cultures of origin, with Tower gift certificates awarded anyone who gets the likes of "Paghjelle" (Corsica, tell me about it--I'd have said Mozambique first, even Society Islands). The point of the programming, if there is one, is to showcase a bewildering splatter of incongruent local styles captured by a machine designed to destroy the musical isolation that makes local styles possible. By all means open up to the diversity--these historic moments do break down into pretty airs, lively dances, dark laments, and other familiar categories. But that doesn't mean you won't find many of them merely educational. In fact, if you like them all (feh on Corsican chorales, I say), I bet you don't love any of them the way I do "Yari Mohi Gatai Dehi Mai Shaim," a virtuoso vocal turn by a professor from India. Since you get to choose, try this disc first. It's hookier and--unlike Vol. 1, which picks up about the time the average listener is done looking at yesterday's Times--it begins strong. But either way, be prepared to concentrate. B+