12 O'Clock Track: JuJu, "Nightwalk"



Ever since the great Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure released his first albums in the West in the late 80s, much has been made of the link between West African guitar music and the blues, from Toure's spindly, hypnotic acoustic guitar epics to the churning electric jams of Tinariwen. Naturally it wasn't long before blues musicians from the West like Corey Harris and Markus James saw an opportunity for some cross-cultural action, jamming with their guitar-playing counterparts (something Ry Cooder did with Toure on the 1994 album Talking Timbuktu). I find most of those excursions boring and a tad forced. Yes, there are similarities between West African modal music and the blues, but they are not the same thing, and too often such mashups end up neutering the African element. One magnificent exception has been the fruitful collaboration between British guitarist Justin Adams and the Gambian griot Juldeh Camara.

Adams, known best for the years he spent as Robert Plant's guitarist, has a longtime interest in the so-called desert blues—he produced the first Tinariwen album released in the West, The Radio Tisdas Sessions, in 2001. Last month Adams and Camara released In Trance (Real World), their third album together since 2007—the new one is credited to JuJu, which I guess seems a bit catchier than a pair of full names—and it's their hardest-hitting effort by a long while (it was released in Europe last year). Camara sings and plays the ancient one-string fiddle called the riti, giving the music a deep, trance-heavy and soulful vibe, while Adams lays down thick riffing and zigzagging leads, often loud and roughened by grimy distortion. When I first heard the album opener "Nightwalk," which is today's 12 O'Clock Track, I was a bit taken aback by the aggression—they're backed by a kit drummer and an electric bassist—but after a couple of spins it all made sense and sounded utterly natural. Adams possesses both adoration and expertise for West African traditions, so even when he throws down some seriously crunching licks they always fit. The whole album is just as terrific as "Nightwalk."

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