Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Rachid Taha: Zoom [Wrasse, 2013]
This is the sixth solo studio album for the trilingual but mostly Arabic-singing 55-year-old French-Algerian since 1998's breakthrough Diwan. Every one has been first-rate, every one just different enough; even the live entry fills out what I hesitate to call his oeuvre, a word that feels sillier than usual in a scrappy rock lifer who just wants to make a little money here--while subtly addressing major political and cultural issues in the most legible desert crossover yet devised. This time the change-ups come from juju trancemaster Justin Adams, Mick Jones honoring his youth, a chanteuse sweetening "It's Now or Never," and a sample from the Egyptian goddess whose name is rendered not as Um Kulthum but as the old-school, rhymes-with-zoom Oum Kalsoum. Taha's rough attack can't match the rough-attack greats--Springsteen, say, or Fogerty--much less such fluent, gritty-when-necessary rivals to the south as Rochereau and N'Dour. For that reason, his excellent records may feel less essential to the English speaker in the long run. But I'll play this one remembering that my favorite track on sound alone is number three, "Jamila," which attacks forced marriage and bears as title an Arabic name that translates as "pretty." A