Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Tinariwen: Tassili [Anti-, 2011]
The first Saharans to break internationally are forbidding even by the sere standards of the region. But they calm rather than mesmerize, which together with some subtly shameless showmanship helps sell them to peace-out types. Having found 2009's widely praised and supposedly "traditional" Imidiwan too lulling by half, which may be because I joined the caravan before Pitchfork and Entertainment Weekly and is definitely because they should rock out a little, I was disappointed to learn that this one is where they abandon electric guitars. But since there's never been any Agadez ax-god abandon about headman Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, the difference is marginal, especially given the help they've gathered on their first album for Epitaph's alt-trad label: Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone on guitar and/or vocals on five of the 12 tracks, Dirty Dozen Brass Band on a sixth. The collaborations are subtle but telling, as are Alhabib's deep melodies. Not "desert blues." Sadder than blues--too sad to be merely calming. A-