Traore - Bowmboi
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Rokia Traore
Nonesuch (

Rokia Traore continues to enhance her Malian roots sound in quietly bold and inventive ways. She still retains a rustic edge that weighs in somewhere between Oumou Sangare's majestic wassoulou strains and Ali Farka Toure's more obviously blues-connected muscle, still centers her songs around characteristic instruments like the n'goni lute and still sings with equal expertise whether the arid rhythms of her music pulsate or float. And the songs here are capable of doing both, such as when "Sara" jumps abruptly from a loping beat into a flat-out dance groove only to return to its point of origin. Traore's slightly nasal and entirely engrossing vocals exhibit a mixture of wispy frailty and firm conviction throughout the disc, evident in the wonderful contrast between her singing and Ousmane Sacko's more pained wail as the two duet on "Mariama."

A couple of songs feature backing by the always-noteworthy strings of the Kronos Quartet to bring the feel of African chamber music without excess refinement. Vocal multitracking sweetly fills the space around passages where acoustic instrumentation lays back. Stompers like "Nienafing" move to a feverish pace Traore has not previously been noted for. But she still has plenty of her more familiar solemn moments, and the near-perfect pace of the disc accommodates them well (though there's a long stretch of silence towards the end that's puzzling and unnecessary). From a production standpoint it all sounds just modern enough, particularly regarding the percussion, which bubbles with the precision of programmed beats despite not being enhanced by any. Musically astute, lyrically wise (if the translations are any indication) and losing no warmth despite moving beyond what could be perceived as the signature sound of an already great artist, Bowmboi is fabulous. - Tom Orr

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