Vieux Farka Touré, Fondo (Six Degrees Records, 2009)

With his 2006 self-titled debut CD, Vieux Farka Touré embraced the legacy left him by his late father, the venerable Malian guitarist singer Ali Farka Touré. The younger Farka Touré has quickly built up a solid reputation on his own terms, though. His second CD Fondo finds him largely going electric, finding a middle ground between the guitar and kora music of his homeland and some good old-fashioned rock and roll.

Touré's embrace of amplifiers and distortion on Fondo is a mixed blessing. On one hand, the album's high-energy songs really rock, especially the hyper workout "Sarama." Touré puts some percussion and some simple yet very effective drumming underneath his frenetic guitar playing, and the result is a really exciting track. On most of the quieter numbers, though, the electric guitar doesn't work quite as well as an acoustic guitar would. I also don't think Touré has the same melodic sense with his playing that his countryman Habib Koité does, and he frequently lets his guitar dominate the instrumental arrangement too much. For example, the song "Mali" has some nice accompanying instrumentation, but you have to listen closely to hear it underneath the heavily distorted guitar. By contrast, Touré shares the spotlight with kora player Toumani Diabaté on the really pretty instrumental "Paradise." Fondo would have benefited from more tunes like this one.

Vieux Farka Touré clearly builds most of the arrangements to the songs on Fondo around his guitar. While I'm sure this works perfectly well in a live context, it sometimes sounds as though the song exists merely as an excuse to set up the next guitar solo. This isn't necessarily a bad thing -- Eric Clapton is probably more guilty of that than anybody, and I'm a huge fan -- but you do have to wonder how many of the songs really hold up independently of the guitar. Still, "Sarama" and "Paradise" are excellent recordings, and fans of Malian guitar music will probably find plenty else to like here as well.

Overall grade: B

reviewed by Scott

Co-producer Yossi Fine talks about the making of Fondo.

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