Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia [World Music Network, 2004]
Finally, after umpteen volumes of Buda Musique completism, a peaky, fluent introduction to one of the European diaspora's stranger and more consistent national musics. Sonically, horns dominate. After World War II, instructors from Austria, Armenia, and other non-Abyssinian places imposed themselves along with the sway of victorious swing on military brass bands that never abandoned their indigenous scales. These bands only went pop decades later, and on Buda, a sameness besets them. Here, in contrast, solid vocalists show off their best tunes, and incongruences like the émigré with King Curtis's taste for major keys merely shift the mood. Smack in the middle and right in a row, an old master of an ancient lyre that sounds like a bass zither, a future émigrée backed by quasi-classical piano, and an instrumental with string section disrupt the vocals-with-horns norm, never alarmingly. Then the norm bounces back refreshed. From beginning to end, what a sound. A-