Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Thunder Before Dawn--The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume Two [Earthworks/Virgin, 1988]
This compelling version of mbaqanga is preeminently a music of professional rhythm sections--the legendary Makgona Tsohle Band driving Mahlathini's cuts, the guitar-organ motor behind Amaswazi Emvelo. Unlike such urban roots musics as Chicago blues or Memphis soul, it doesn't mess much with laid-back--as deep into street action as punk, its forward motion is almost frantic with joy, which may mean it's less joyful than we assume (and it pretends). It's no shock that the level of inspiration doesn't match Volume One's--how many miracles do we get in a lifetime?--but the falloff in warmth is a little disappointing. Only Jozi's "Phumani Endlini" has much pastorale in it, and only the three instrumentals cut life much slack. My favorite comes from Malombo, a "black consciousness" band who've always seemed pretentious to read about, but whose haunting understatement bears the same relationship to this nonstop anthology as Ladysmith's pop spirituality did to its vigorously secular predecessor. A-