Malian guitarist and singer Vieux Farka Touré returns for a collaborative album with American singer Julia Easterlin.
A chance encounter in New York in 2014 led to the duo writing together and the result is a mixed bag of pop songs with an African element, some of which come off, and a more convincing blending of styles in the second half of the album. On ‘Took my brother down’, the traditional West African instrumentation and English vocals make for a superior fusion of styles and this is a contender for the strongest number on the album. A couple of covers receive contrasting treatments. The ever pertinent ‘Masters of war’ by Dylan takes on a West African flavour with kora and subtle use of electric guitar and is a treat, following on from a previous cover by Touré, ‘Mon pays (My country)’. On the other hand, Prince’s funk number, ‘I’m not done’, is transformed into a screaming blues-rock led piece with poppy vocals and this does not work at all. Easterlin, born in Georgia, but raised in Brooklyn, has a wispy voice not dissimilar to that of Rickie Lee Jones, that is pleasant, though not exceptional. Things pick up considerably as the songs unfold, with more acoustic guitar from Vieux Farka Touré adding a rootsier dimension on ‘Spark’ and ‘A’Bashiya (It’s alright)’, and one wonders whether a different track listing with a greater number of traditional pieces in the first half would have enhanced the listener’s experience and made the album sound less lob-sided. American folk and West African blues are by no means polar opposites, but it does nonetheless require time and effort to achieve a satisfactory balance, and the pairing here of Touré and Easterlin is very much a work in progress.