a new best-of compilation comprising 13 tracks culled from Amadou and Mariam's three discs before Dimanche a Bamako (Sou Ni Tile, Tje Ni Mousso and Wati) proves that these towering artists' talent was merely dressed, seasoned, spiced and presented by executive chef Mann Chao on Dimanche. And all the better that he did, because returning to Amadou and Mariam's pre-Chao sound just gives us a listening experience enriched by the diversity of their work. For me, a true-blue rock 'n' roll fan who rarely hears any-thing in new rock to get fired up about, this act is totally the medicine I need. Flow could anyone mix Manding and Bambara traditional and popular music with influences ranging from Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf to the Kinks and the Jimi Hendrix Experience; from the Isley Brothers and FunkadeIic to Booker T and the MG's and ZZ Top and have it come out as exciting as any of its component parts?
Since Amadou honed his chops in Les Ambassadeurs, his skill as a guitarist is not surprising
and (as the beautifully written liner notes by Francis Dordor imply) the international repertoire demanded by hotel audiences may well have set the stage for his remarkable breadth of sound sources. But it's the visceral, sexy, gritty, fatback, earthy early rock 'n' roll groove that these guys pump out that makes me remember what I felt like as a teenager at Saturday night dances- Yes, the traditional music of this region is the strongest single building block for rock, blues and r&b, but Amadou and Mariam are not playing with blocks here. They have total mastery of every element they're working with, including the reggae flavors of "Chantez-Chantez" and "Mouna"-showcases for Mariam as lead vocalist. With a multicultural cast of killing musicians of West African, European and Middle Eastern descent, Amadou and Mariam rock out with the basic formula of guitars, bass and drums decorated with percussion, keys, flutes, horns and violin. Kudos to the drum and bass team of Stephane San Juan and Laurent Griffon. They earn my highest compliment, which is that they sound like they're from Memphis. And that mastery, along with some more tradition-based tracks like "Youbala Kono" and "Mali Denou," makes this not at all a cross-over disc. It is organic, mature, cooked-down, both a product of its time and place and a defining cornmenttuy on its time and place. Topped with their plaintive, earnest, keening voices and their pen-chant for penning irresistible melodic hooks and get-outcha-seat guitar riffs, the mix is utterly mesmerizing. Indispensable.