Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Always With Us (Uyohlale Unathi) [CDBaby, 2014]
Often this highly evolved, showbiz-savvy family choir have courted their international target market of congenial folkies by keeping company with their many admirers in Western pop. This has been dodgy musically, and although their filigreed tenor blend is hard to ruin, 2006 collaborations with Melissa Etheridge, Sarah McLachlan, and Natalie Merchant were not propitious. But on this self-released album a South African female provides blessed relief: semi-retired 73-year-old Joseph Shabalala's late wife Nellie, who was murdered in a murky 2002 incident just as her Women of Mambazo choir was about to go international itself. Through the earthly miracle of magnetic tape, Joseph's men and Nellie's women join their voices, and the differentiation is just the thing to make Ladysmith's fifty-somethingth album ring out. Gorgeous has never been their main thing--they're wittier and more intricate than that. But this is gorgeous. A-