Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Franco: Francophonic Vol. 2 [Sterns Africa, 2009]
An overview of the rumba master's final decade: two CDs, 148 minutes, and just 13 tracks, of which I'd previously heard three. After not too long, however, "Kimpa kisangameni," anchored by Decca Mpudi's bewitching bass line, and "Bina na ngai na respect," with Ya Ntesa Dalienst threading his near-tenor through a web of soukous tricks, feel almost as familiar as the famous not to mention super "Mario," presented here in an alternate version that will have special meaning for all you Lingala speakers out there. Don't think these expansive tracks are all unimpeded up-up-up, either--the first 18 minutes and two songs of Disc 2 soar slow and majestic on expressiveness alone (well, melody, sure). Franco's forthright baritone and broad guitar are constants. But for all his skills as a player, singer, and writer, what made him not just Congo's but Africa's greatest musician was his bandleading. And unlike his counterpart James Brown, to whom he condescended for no good reason, he did his damnedest to hire underlings who were even better at singing and writing than he was. A+