Vieux Farka Touré and Todd Snider   Leave a comment


In my July 17, 2009 column in the Red Deer Advocate, I was pleased to review two remarkable new albums: Vieux Farka Toure’s fonda and Todd Snider’s The Excitement Plan.

Vieux Farka Touré

Fondo

Six Degrees

Son of the late Ali Farka Touré, Vieux continues the rich tradition of guitar-based, West African music. Loose and freewheeling numbers enable the musician to seemingly improvise his way around sweeping melodies, providing a compelling listen.

Touches of the blues are apparent, especially on numbers such as Souba Souba and  Paradise. Most assuredly, this is an African album. Recorded in Mali, the album has a consistent sound, one that is complementary to the western and African styles that meld into a fresh, coherent mixture of influences.

A remarkable collection of original music, the album features the traditional tune Walé, a song from Timbuktu. This track, and two others, feature vocals from Afel Bocoum. Elsewhere, Vieux takes the lead vocal spot and his words, while not understood by those not speaking his language, connect with the listener through inflection and intensity of phrasing.

For most of us, “world music”- that which includes lyrics we don’t understand- is about the groove, and Fondo succeeds in this area like few others. Song after song- Sarama, Diaraby Magni, and the aptly titled Slow Jam– pull listeners into complex but accessible rhythms.

Vieux Farka Touré knows that heartfelt music requires no translation, and Fondo speaks to all who are willing to listen.

Todd Snider

The Excitement Plan

YepRoc

In which everyone’s favourite bar-stool philosopher goes uptown with Don Was producing. While a studio A-team is present- Jim Keltner on drums, Greg Leisz on steel and Dobro, and Was himself on the bass- Snider acerbic wit and cutting couplets prevail.

“The number one symptom of heart disease is sudden death” Snider sings on Greencastle Blues prior to asking “How do you know it is too late to learn?” Honed by countless performances in hundreds if not thousands of dives, Snider maintains interest through the use of a charming “Ah, shucks” persona while skewing the very hands that feed him.

Back to back- on Barefoot Champagne and Don’t Tempt Me– Snider captures the strain and dark humour of marital discord. On the latter, honky-tonkin’ song, Snider duets with Loretta Lynn; the legend drops lines like, “You’re stoned as a rock” with aplomb. Lighthearted as the tone may be in many places, Snider pulls no punches on Bring ’em Home, an anti-war protest song that could be forty years old, but unfortunately isn’t.

His tribute to Dock Ellis’s No-No (America’s Favourite Pastime) differs greatly from Chuck Brodsky’s previous, novelistic approach. Snider succeeds because of what he leaves out; cutting to the core of the accomplishment- pitching a no-hitter while on LSD- by capturing  staccato images of the day.

Clocking in at just over forty minutes, Snider knows how to quit while ahead. The Excitement Plan, with its straight-ahead approach and uncluttered arrangements, contains nothing extraneous. It should appeal to all long-time fans and, for others, may serve as a gentle introduction to a singer who takes some getting used to.

I’ve been away on vacaction, but will be posting several reviews shortly as I was able to do a bit of listening while away. Thanks for checking in, Donald

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