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Bombino - Nomad

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Artist: Bombino

Album: Nomad

Label: Nonesuch

Review date: Apr. 1, 2013

Bombino - "Azamane Tiliade"

Omara “Bombino” Moctar is a nomad in more ways than one. The Tuareg singer-guitarist has been impelled by warfare to move in and out of Niger (the nation where he was born) on more than one occasion. He’s certainly willing to hit the road to play his music, as evidenced by his appearance at festivals on three continents. He’s also shifted business affiliations with every album, recording one audio crudité document for Sublime Frequencies, a cleaned-up but none too fancy solo debut for Cumbancha, and now Nomad for Nonesuch, which knows a thing or two about bringing non-American musicians a wider audience. The label was the U.S. home for Ali Farka Touré from 1989 until his death, and helped him transition from a guy who did a bit of singing and picking on Malian radio to being a perpetual audio presence for NPR listeners; half a decade after his death, one of his tunes is still the theme music to the Geo-quiz segment of the PRI-BBC news program, The World.

Tellingly, The World did not use a track that foregrounded Touré’s signature licks, but one that is dominated by Ry Cooder’s slide guitar. The world music marketplace needs a spoonful of sugar to make its desert blues go down easy. Bombino doesn’t go it alone on Nomad, either. Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who recently enjoyed some success updating Dr. John’s production aesthetic, is behind the board on this record, and he’s brought a few of his pals with him. He’s augmented Bombino’s band with Eric Herman, bassist-manager for Ali’s son Vieux Farka Touré; session pros Bobby Emmett and Russ Pahl on steel guitar; and Berlin-based funk drummer “DJ Max” Weissenfeldt, whom Auerbach also used on Dr John’s Locked Down. From the sound of things, he’s brought a van-load of pedals, compressors, vintage amps, and other accoutrements that enable him to give Bombino a much more scuffed and blown-up sound than he achieved on Agadez; somehow I don’t think he’s using the ballpoint pen that you see on that album’s sleeve for a capo anymore.

I’m not saying that he should, but neither will I say that Auerbach’s sound always suits Bombino’s music. The bumping drums, in the red organ, and bulked-up electric guitar on “Amidinine” are infinitely more radio friendly than the acoustic strumming and handclaps that the same song received on Guitars From Agadez, Vol. 2, but they also serve to point out the thinness and limited range of Bombino’s voice. And it’s not the only redo here. Four of Nomad’s 11 songs also appear on either Agadez or Guitars From Agadez, Vol. 2, and another sounds like an off-the-cuff studio jam. The material on Nomad’s predecessors also shows some significant overlap. It’s beginning to look like Bombino is not the most prolific of songwriters, and when you consider that his lyrics (at least when translated from Takashek into English) tend toward platitudes and generalities, one wonders if what he most needs isn’t pumped-up production, but an ambitious co-writer.

Which isn’t to say that Nomad is a total bust. Bombino summons the same spooky Sahara-at-night vibe as Tinariwen on “Zigzan,” and sounds commandingly stoked riding the parade-ground groove of “Azamane Tiliade.” And in a swell example of probably unintended consequences, the liberal echo and steel guitar ladled over album closer “Tamiditine” makes it sound like something The Clean’s David Kilgour might do if he ever got into a desert frame of mind. It remains to be seen whether Nomad reveals Bombino to be an artist of limited means or one who is making the occasional misstep on the way to something great.

By Bill Meyer

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