Utne Reader Music Reviews

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For more, listen to sample tracks from all of these albums.

The Kora and the Guitar: A Sweet Sequel
ALI AND TOUMANI
by Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté (Nonesuch)
Before Ali Farka Touré died in 2005, the blues guitar legend went into the studio with fellow Malian Toumani Diabaté, with whom he had collaborated on their album In the Heart of the Moon. The two reprised the sound and feel of that album, albeit with new songs, and Ali and Toumani is the result. Seldom is a sequel so satisfying.

Diabaté plays the kora, a 21-string gourd harp. With a bright upper register and a sound that’s earthier and more organic than the guitar, the kora often appears to be the lead instrument on these duets—but appearances can be deceptive. Touré’s guitar, while supplying many of the underlying rhythms, engages in a delicate dance with Diabaté’s harp, prodding and pulling it in new melodic directions.

As they did on their previous album, Touré and Diabaté draw on a Malian folk music style called jamana kura—a sound less gritty and raw than Touré’s famous blues, but one infused with nostalgia for both artists. A few tracks feature the late Cuban bassist Orlando “Cachaíto” López, making this a double posthumous release. But the specter of death is nowhere to be found here, only the overwhelming sweetness of life. —Keith Goetzman

 

Pop Odyssey
FIELD MUSIC (MEASURE)
by Field Music (Memphis Industries)
For their third release as the brainy British pop outfit Field Music, brothers David and Peter Brewis unfurl an ambitious 70-minute odyssey of tight, hooky gems that recall the Stones’ swagger and Elvis Costello’s erudite lyricism. These songs charm at first blush, but multiple listens uncover clever lyrics about growing older backed by intricate arrangements, and the second half stretches out into looser jams and instrumental passages without ever lapsing into self-indulgence. —Jake Mohan

 

An Ear for Detail
JULY FLAME
by Laura Veirs (Raven Marching Band)
Laura Veirs writes songs about July Flame peaches, the Little Deschutes River, and semi-famous rock ’n’ roll bassist Carol Kaye. Which sounds like a bunch of Wikipedia entries, but in Veirs’ hands these specifics are just reference points on her psychic map, a fascinating and charmingly unsettling landscape. Her sound is judiciously ornamented folk-pop, with viola and piano and the occasional string quartet or pedal steel. In other words, whatever the song calls for. “I wanted to . . . make something good,” she sings at the album’s end, and she has. —K.G.