Polished Desert Blues

Tinariwen - Tassili
Tinariwen

Tassili (Anti, 2011)

Anyone who has followed CD reviews for any length of time here at World Music Central knows that desert blues is always a big hit with us. As luck would have it one of the heavy weights in the desert blues business Tinariwen has just released their latest Tassili, available now on the Anti label, to soothe all your desert blues needs for the late summer doldrums.

With such previous recordings as Aman Iman, Amassakoul and Imidiwan to their credit, Tinariwen turns inward with Tassili, opting for acoustic guitars instead of their usual electric razzle dazzle. Teaming up for the first time with guest musicians like Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone from TV on the Radio fame, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Nels Cline from Wilco, Tinariwen plumbs the heart of their sound and finds a savage soulfulness.

Interestingly, Tassili has a more polished and more focused feel to it than some of their previous recordings, allowing a spare, intimate artistry to shine through. Steeped in an acoustic sound, Tassili sounds more like an American blues band than the guitar flash we’ve come to expect from a desert blues recording and the result is simply stunning.

The classic Tinariwen sound isn’t lost by any stretch of the imagination as Tassili opens with the neatly layered “Imidiwan Ma Tenam,” with Nels Cline adding his two cents with some slick guitar lines. Tassili offers up some real treats with the slow, thickly sorrowful “Asuf D Alwa,” the savvy goodness of layered backing vocals and tapping rhythms on “Tenere Taqqim Tossam” featuring vocals by Tunde Adebimpe and guitar and vocals by Kyp Malone and the powerful blues driven by The Dirty Dozen Brass band on “Ya Messinagh.”

Shedding their electric sound, Tinariwen unearths some genuine soulfulness in tracks like the sweetly melancholic “Tameyawt” with its acoustic guitar lines sounding as delicate as a kora or the intimate blues sound of “Tenidagh Hegh Djeredjere” and “Iswegh Attay.” Another gem is the campfire folk feeling track “Walla Illa.” Tinariwen loses none of its hallmarks of intricate hand clapping, revolving rhythms or exotic call and response vocals, but finds a lonely kind of precariousness that certainly must be part of desert existence.

Tassili makes the desert blues sound into self reflective and stunningly personal. Tinariwen’s stamp of intimate artistry makes Tassili powerful, potent and wholly addictive.

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