Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Sterns Africa

A quarter-century of guitar sorcery from the James Brown of Africa.

The Congolese guitarist-singer-bandleader Franco Luambo was a blunt-looking, sharp-witted man so firmly rooted in Kinshasa that all the music in Africa's premier music city seemed to revolve around him. The 28 tracks (cherry-picked from nearly 500 recorded between 1953 and 1980) on this flawless two-disc collection begin with a spunky single he cut at 15 and end with a strange 11-minute meditation where he overdubs almost all the parts. In between come rumbas, boleros, band intros, torch songs, threnodies, satires, village echoes, fresh beats, multipartite constructions, billowing guitar workouts, an unforgettable Volkswagen ad and an uncharted array of smooth vocalists and fleet guitarists serving up a sweetness just waiting for his salt. Most have never been available here, much less explained as evocatively as in Ken Braun's liner notes. Listen three times, then read along. Soon you'll notice that you're remembering every tune.

Blender, Feb. 2009