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Vieux Farka Touré
The Secret Frances Morgan , August 17th, 2011 07:43

Whether or not Quietus readers have heard the lithe and characterful guitar of Vieux Farka Touré probably depends on how they feel about the label 'world music', the scene in which the young Malian's music has been filed since he emerged from the shadow of his legendary guitarist father, Ali, with a self-titled album in 2007. The term's long been considered outdated, many of us now preferring an idea of global music that seems less carefully curated by the West, less generalized, more 'found', raw and immediate (and other, equally problematic terms).

I'd imagine Vieux Farka Touré doesn't mind being bracketed in one of the remaining music sectors where people pay for music and an artist's longevity is valued. The support of the world music community has helped him to tour widely and record with a choice of international artists; he played the opening of the World Cup in South Africa, and can no doubt live with not getting to do ATP or whatever. But Sublime Frequencies listeners and Awesome Tapes clickers (and I'm both) who have him down as strictly WOMAD material are missing out.

Perhaps this third album is not the best introduction to his work, though. The Secret, recorded not in Mali but in New York, sees Touré going further away from the liquid, desert-blues style that was his father's legacy and towards defining a more rock-oriented guitar sound, picking up an array of guests and new sounds that at times sound more like encumbrances than improvements. This album's predecessor, Fondo, is the best place to start: one of my albums of 2009, its exuberant grace powered by polyrhythms and lyrical, clear, quicksilver electric guitar, it alchemised traditional Malian motifs into gorgeous, jazz- and dub-inflected pop music that hadn't yet taken on the introspective heft of 'rock'.

On The Secret, Vieux Farka Toure seems more laden down with this baggage: you can hear it in the slightly harsher tone on the guitar, the denser textures of the songs, the layered-up vocals and heavyweight collaborators like the brilliantly named Derek Trucks, formerly of the Allman Brothers' Band, and veteran jazz shredder John Scofield. It can take a while for The Secret's moodier charms to take hold; but existing fans won't be disappointed in Touré's own playing, writing and arranging, which is particularly strong on charged opener 'Sokosondou', the call-and-response and crunchy, funky harmonies of 'Wonda Guay' and the title track on which he duets with a posthumous recording of Ali Farka Touré, who died in 2006. Retro-fitted collaborations with the deceased are often a bit odd, but this one is a hypnotic, hazy pleasure, not dissimilar to some of the sinuous grooves on Fondo. As on that album, drummer Tim Keiper deserves a mention for keeping an energetic, antsy but unshowy momentum going throughout.

While it's good to hear Touré expanding his palette and collaborating more widely, the guest guitarists' styles on the album, mired in rock, jazz and contemporary soul/funk tradition, just highlight, for me, how idiosyncratic and cool his own style is. It's as if, within one song, you hear how antiquated the electric guitar has become, and how fresh it can be, an odd effect not helped by an uncalled-for bass solo in the otherwise flawless 'Borei'. Similarly, the straining, chunky vocals of Dave Matthews on 'All The Same' weigh down the fabric of Touré's music, pulling it in a more staid direction.

These highlights and lowlights are captured in the same high-definition as Fondo; both are impeccably recorded albums, with great attention given to tone and clarity. But where the warm, bright finish on Fondo made it gleam expansively, occasionally here you wish for a little more space in the mix and in the arrangements, if only to allow us to explore Vieux Fara Touré's beautiful songs more freely.