Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Youssou N'Dour: Rokku Mi Rokka (Give and Take) [Nonesuch, 2007]
Unlike the two previous Nonesuch albums by Africa's premier pop star--the 2002 ecumenical, the 2005 Muslim--this isn't designed to inspire conversion experiences. But believe that its melodicism and vocal dexterity exceed those of whatever contemporary standard-bearer you favor in those realms, that the clarity and range of the singing epitomize what is usually meant by beauty, and that at 48 this Sufihas got him some beats. Having long realized that crossover was most gracefully accomplished by conceptual clarity, he keeps things organized this time out by tending to business at home. On half the tracks a banjo-like ngoni, which this being Senegal N'dour designates a xalam, gestures toward the Malian desert directly to his north, imparting a capering intricacy and folkish flavor to what remains Dakar dance music. To most Americans, however, it will probably just sound like Africa, and pretty darn good. A