Desert Road (World Village, 2002)
During the Victorian era many French and English adventure seekers headed to Imperialist Africa to escape
Victorian confines and to battle the powers of a harsh natural environment. One doesn’t have to go too far to
find examples other than reading one of numerous novels written about taming nature and turning nomadic or
indigenous people into proper English and French speaking citizens.
Today the continent of Africa lures a different sort of adventurer, most likely hypnotized by Africa’s wild diversity
of rhythms, cacophony of voices singing out in ancient languages and musicians passing on the knowledge of
ancient instruments. Why else would anyone brave the desert heat and diseases like Malaria? Today
musicians and artists from various western cultures fall under Africa, our tribal mother’s trance. It’s as if she
calls these wayward musicians back to the comfort of her breasts where the artists are then nurtured into a
new creative force that is literally blowing away an old paradigm on the planet. Where once explorers came to
rob the indigenous cultures of their languages, music and tribal ways by calling the indigenous way the “devil’s
making,” now musicians explore and incorporate many rich musical traditions as part of a cultural exchange. Musicians such as Justin Adams have formed new friendships with indigenous musicians and we get a sense
of the birth of a new world just waiting to happen. Of course the North African desert and the Middle East isn’t
new to Adams who spent his childhood years living in the desert and like most childhood experiences this one
has come full circle for Adams who in any case, always had a pension of Arabic rhythms and the songs
snaking their way through the Sahara’s desert. Influenced by the Clash, reggae, American Black music (blues)
and Tuareg music, Adams after 20 years of collaborating and producing other musical acts, recorded his first
solo album in a lo-tech studio in his home. Desert Road might have been recorded in a small studio, yet the
songs here come across as complex with various layers of guitar tracks, percussion and Adams even found a
new use for a cardboard box.
Adams’ story is a long one that can be condensed into a few fateful encounters. A friend living in France
introduced him to Lo’Jo which led to Adams producing two Lo’Jo CD’s. Then later, Adams produced
Tinariwen’s first album leading to his involvement with the inaugural Festival in the Desert which took place
during the first full moon of the millennium (eclipse). Adams shared a make-shift stage with such acts as Lo’Jo
and Tinariwen, again leading to a birth of a new music festival. And Adams Desert Road garners its
inspiration from this special time in the Sahara.
Recalling Tom Waits, Lou Reed (Velvet Underground), American blues, Bob Dylan and Tinariwen, Adams
combines Arabic percussion and layers of bluesy guitar while creating a coupling of ambient and snaky blues.
It is familiar and unfamiliar to the ear at the same time. Adams plays several instruments including electric
guitar, steel string, bass, the ancient lute instrument, Ngoni, Bendir, bells, finger cymbals, Hopi shaker, an
electric organ and a cardboard box. Percussionist Salah Dawson Miller joins Adams on the tracks Wayward
and Majnoun and Leila. Out of the Woods recalls early Bruce Springstien and contemporary Tom Waits in
the way that Adams’ gruff vocals punctuate his guitar playing.
Dark Sea could easily be performed by the Canadian act The Cowboy Junkies, an act familiar with ambient
blues and the song certainly sets a melancholic mood augmented by hush tones. The lyrics read, “They say
that this road is made for walking–take my hand–made for talking.” Wayward could be an homage to
Tinariwen since it is performed in a Tuareg style. Runway with its sonic guitars could easily fall into the grunge
category, not surprising since many of those musicians were heavily influenced by American blues. Finally,
Wallahee mixes Arabic percussion with steel string creating an unusual aural effect.
I am not a big fan of blues and yet, I really have enjoyed listening to the tracks on Adams’ Desert Road.
Adams has taken old traditions and along with other world musicians has helped in giving birth to a new
musical style dubbed the desert blues.
(Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music).