Live From Festival Au Desert Timbuktu/Omar Souleyman
Before the war
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 MINUS
Omar Souleyman: Highway to Hassake (Sublime Frequencies '07)
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 MINUS
Reading Tim Quirk ...
Certainly agree that the Who were as dedicated to let's-call-it transcendence as any band out there. But also sadly agree that video has been the only way to witness it for a long, long time now. Never saw the Who with Moon, but saw them the first time out without him and concluded that their deepest powers were wrapped up tightly with the dead man's all-wrong but perfect drumming.
Even so, I got more out of Quirk's essay on "How To Write About Music You Hate." I mean, I enjoyed *Hi Fidelity* (book and movie) as much as anybody, but reading this reminded me vividly of how and why I concluded back in the dark ages that running a record store would not satisfy my music obsessions. I never felt dishonest helping out customers with terrible taste, but I sure did feel like I was retailing.
Pere Ubu fans should know (as I just found out) that the 1996 DGC Box set (Datapanik in the Year Zero, 5 CDs) was reissued in 2009 by Cooking Vinyl in a smaller package but with the same music.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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