Salif Keita, Dearling, Pierce Pettis

Salif Keita, Un Autre Blanc

There are few world music stars whose luster matches that of Mali's Selif Keita. If you've not heard him, you should and you'd better hurry; Un Autre Blanc is allegedly the final record the 69-yearold Keita will make. That would surely be a personal decision, as his voice is as strong as ever. As you can hear on "WereWere," Keita is a dramatic force whose vocals cut like a knife. Or check out "Lerou Lerou," which opens with a swaying tune behind steady beats before Keita is again the storm that ruptures the calm. On "Tonton," Keita is more subdued, though the song builds in a way that's influenced by house music and would certainly be at home in a dance club. The Afro Pop master is magical on "Gnamale," which opens with kora setting the melodic structure for spirited guest performance group singing from Lady Smith Black Mambazo. This one goes back and forth between soft (Ladysmith) and hard (Keita). What a record! If you hear another other worldly female vocals soaring Keita's female response singers, it belongs to still another Afro Pop idol: Angelique Kidjo. The record is dedicated to the albino rights movement. (I'll bet you didn't know that the United Nations recognizes June 13 at Albinism Awareness Day.) If anyone needs another reminder of the idiocy of racism, in West Africa, those born with light skin or are stricken with albinism face horrendous discrimination. You can think about this, but you really should appreciate Keita now. He is truly a global treasure. ★★★★

Dearling, Silver and Gold

Dearling is a Colorado-born and based duo of Dave Preston and Rachel James, plus the brotherly pair of Joel and Noah Matthews. I'm not usually wild about self-descriptions, but Dearling's fits: "Sounds, textures, and feelings that the West inspires." Add eclectic to the mix as Preston and James count among their influences this mixed bunch: Kelly Clarkson, Fleetwood Mac, Emmylou Harris, Chris Stapleton, Jake Shimabukuro, and Justin Timberlake. You can find some Fleetwood Mac covers on YouTube, but Dearling isn't a tribute band. The title song of their new EP is a Nashville-style country weepy about a war widow: There's no halo/No white glow/Just another human hand…. By contrast, there's some scorching electric guitar in "What I Don't Need," but the vocals have a decided pop flair. "Real Love" is a slow folk song with Preston singing lead and James harmony. "Champion" has ringing tones that build and segue to enhance the emotive power for a song about a man pledging to be your last stand/I'll be your champion. As of this writing, there are no YouTube clips of their new material, but you can sample some past music by clicking here.  ★★★

 Pierce Pettis, Father's Son

The human voice changes as it ages, which creates challenges for singer songwriters. Some, such as Judy Collins and Joan Baez, adapt and continue to sound glorious. Others–Pete Seeger springs to mind–continued to perform even though their vocal chords weren't up to the task. Pierce Pettis has been a roots folk/bluegrass troubadour for 40 years, but it saddens me to say that his voice is shot. Father's Son is his first new album in almost a decade and he is still capable of writing a fine song and churning out a cool turn of phrase. His new record centers on family and deep connections. It's also about trails he's traveled. On "TheAdventures of Me (and this Old Guitar") he sings, Oceans of gasoline/Million miles in my ear… and therein lie several tales. Pettis dusts off covers of emotional songs such as the love song "Very Same Moon" and Jesse Winchester's "A Showman's Life," one of the better reflections of a musician wondering if the rigor and loneliness are worthwhile. He also enlists such top-drawer backing talent as Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Ruth Moody (backing vocals), Reese Wynans (organ, piano), Gerry West (bass), and many others. At the end of the day, though, we hear a creaky, quavering voice that strains both high and low. It may be time for Pettis to concentrate on writing and curtail public performance. 

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