Noteworthy: Reviews of new music

Ali Farke Toure – Savane (World Circuit/Nonesuch): The final and best album by Toure is a great showcase for the Malian singer, songwriter (in seven languages!), and master guitarist (electric and acoustic). Endlessly compared by Western journalists (with only limited justice) to Mississippi bluesmen, this album should clarify just how much Toure's musical mastery was firmly rooted in traditional Songhai and Fulani melodies and rhythms, with haunting accompaniment on n'goni (African lute). The record's title resonates with the images of the savannah, and these mesmerizing, cyclical, deeply urgent songs – spurred by knotty guitar lines and keening voice – will take you there. Grade: A

Various Artists – Music Rough Guides: Off the Beaten Track (World Music Network): For around the cost of a hot beverage, you can get this jaw-dropping global tour of the best in world music from several continents. It cherry-picks from the remarkable "Rough Guide" music CD series, an outgrowth of the travel-book series. Among the 16 tracks are several women vocalists (Kenya's Rasha and Madagascar's Hanitrarivo, in particular) who redefine torch singing in terms of acetylene-like heat. There's even an orchestra of elephants from Thailand who play stomping, emphatic improvisations. Global eclecticism collected with remarkable taste. Grade: A

Hallelujah Chicken Run Band – Take One (Alula): This spiky and sinewy Zimbabwe music is fueled by staccato electric guitar lines weaving in and out of one another with gleeful locomotion. This historic release culls rare recordings from a band that invented modern Zimbabwean pop music decades ago. They were a house-band for a British-owned copper mine where the musicians were hired to perform to raise miners' morale as well as tend to the company's hen house (thus the band's name). Little did the mine owners know that one band member, Thomas Mapfumo, would evolve into a major international music star and political revolutionary. Grade: B+

Pedro Luis Ferrer – Natural (Escondida): Easily the most whimsical and surrealistically fantastic Cuban songwriter of all time, Ferrer still lives and records in Cuba, where Fidel Castro isn't his biggest fan. Ferrer's lyrics, found in English translation in the CD booklet, are witty, poetic ramblings. His melodically catchy songs are wry commentaries on challenges of daily life, often dealing with romantic disillusionment and the need to maintain one's eccentricity in a society dedicated to heavily policed conformity. Ferrer's spectacularly gifted daughter harmonizes with his modest voice, accompanied by a touch of springy percussion from a homemade drum kit and the ringing backing of Ferrer's tres (Cuban guitar). Grade: A

Various Artists – Trojan Motor City Box Set (Trojan): This budget-priced three-disc box shows that the roots of reggae can justly be partially attributed to the music produced by Motown in Detroit. It makes sense if you remember how Motown distilled an essence of American gospel and blues into soulfully vocal pop music, making it radio-friendly through supercharged bass and drum tracks – all reggae trademarks. Reggae stars such as Delroy Wilson and Slim Smith put a tastefully languid Jamaican spin to hits by Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Motown fans should be warned: They'll agree with the song, if not version, by Bob (not Marley) & Marcia of "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing." Grade: B

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