Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Franco: African Classics [Sheer/Cantos, 2008]
Guitarist-vocalist-bandleader-force majeure Luambo Franco recorded all the time. But in the dire tradition of both dictatorship and imperialism, the catalogue of the greatest African musician of the 20th century comprises many dozens of albums and many hundreds of songs whose availability wanes and waxes and then wanes again. So who knows how long this lovely and riveting mess of a double-CD will be around? It shares a mere four duplications with the Manteca and Rough Guide best-ofs you should buy first. It lists who's singing (14 African idols overall, Franco usually included) and playing guitar (on 16 out of 23 songs, not just the big man but bespectacled hitmaker Simaro). Its main negative is its incomprehensibly unchronological track order. Its great prize is all 17 minutes of the deeply gorgeous "Très Impoli," which does nothing but insult an unnamed somebody right down to, as biographer Graeme Ewens puts it, his "smelly armpits and dirty socks." A-