Mesmerizing desert blues from the highly talented West African guitarist/singer's third album gets a little help from the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach.
Like many Westerners, I first became aware of Tuareg desert blues through the music of the genre's breakout group, Tinariwen. That band's 2007 album Aman Iman was a personal favorite and one of my most played albums for the next year or so. I picked up several other Tuareg albums, most notably the Tinariwen followups and albums by Etran Finatawa and Tartit. But they lacked the charm of Aman Iman, or sounded just a bit too similar. I've been looking for a new Tuareg record to get excited about ever since, and I finally found one in Nomad, the third album from Omara "Bombino" Moctar.
Bombino is a singer-songwriter and gifted guitarist from Agadez, Niger, who plays traditional Tuareg melodies. But the plays them with a few subtle differences than most of contemporaries that make his sound a bit more Western friendly. The layered guitar lines serpentine throughout the songs, playfully dancing with the hypnotic rhythms. Two percussionists and plenty of hand claps in various tempo African time signatures drive the songs, but it's the sinewy acoustic and electric guitars that really captivate. That and Bombino's relaxed vocals, occasionally chanted, but always sung in sung in his native Tamashe.
One of the thing that separates Nomad from other Tuareg recordings is the addition of Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys behind the producer's desk. Recorded in Nashville, he gives Bombino lots of freedom to do what he does best, capturing the loose and flowing vibe of the music. But he adds very subtle bits that fill out the sound. There's a little bit of pedal steel, some vibes, an occasional organ riff, and I'm sure he encouraged the use of a few extra guitar pedals. Much like he did so well with Dr John last year, Auerbach nudges Bombino more than directing him, allowing the artist's organic energy to ultimately decide where the journey ends. In this case, it ends with a very enjoyable and uplifting album that I'm sure I'll be playing for many years to come.