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Rachid Taha
Diwan 2
Wrasse Records (www.wrasserecords.com)

Rachid Taha reportedly dislikes being called a rai singer, which may be why he often brings an aggressively rocking edge to that Algerian pop genre. That rai/rock duality has fit Taha like a pair of leather trousers, culminating in his spot-on version of the Clash's "Rock the Casbah" from his last album, 2004's Tekitoi. He goes a more traditional route on Diwan 2, continuing a precedent set with the first Diwan album from the late '90s. The fact that Diwan 2 starts with the old Francophone ballad "Ecoute Moi Comrade" indicates that Taha may be toning it down a bit, a guess which the rest of the album both affirms and flies in the face of. On the second track, "Rani," he's back to his usual attitude-laden intoning, though the nimble cover of Francis Bebey's "Agatha" which follows is marked by Taha whimsically talking and laughing his way through much of the vocal. Never a perfect singer but almost always perfectly suited to what he's singing, Taha maximizes his gruff, tobacco-and-booze nourished pipes marvelously here. And since the bulk of the disc is comprised of remakes of songs that had an influence on Taha and North African music in general, his love for the material is obvious whether he's growling or crooning. The musical backing here is sumptuous, making use of rustic reed flutes, throbbing hand drums, an Egyptian string section and further touches that largely steer clear of rock leanings. Among the ten lengthy tracks are two songs- "Josephine" and "Ah Mon Amour" -that fit perfectly into the vintage feel even though they're recent compositions by Taha and his longtime producer and musical associate Steve Hillage. So it seems Taha is not merely celebrating Algerian musical history with this collection, but assuredly declaring himself a part of it. Whatever his intent, all you really need to know is this is a terrific CD. Possibly Taha's best to date. - Tom Orr

CD available from cdroots

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