Harry Taussig gets on picking, Ghali & Akrouni team up in Tuareg
Harry Arthur Taussig
Too Late to Die Young
Harry Arthur Taussig is an American polymath—a physicist with a PhD, collage artist, photographer, film expert and fingerstyle guitarist—who recorded his first album, Fate Is Only Once, in 1965 and was featured on the compilation Contemporary Guitar: Spring ‘67 on American Primitive guitarist John Fahey’s Takoma label alongside notables including Bukka White and Robbie Basho.
Well over four decades elapsed until his follow-up solo album, Fate Is Only Twice, was released in 2012, marking a welcome return; since the comeback, Taussig has been on a roll, releasing The Diamond of Lost Alphabets in 2014 and the new full-length, Too Late to Die Young.
Taussig’s early work was very much in the realm of American Primitive Guitar—the mid-century genre that grew out of traditional folk and country blues, popularized primarily by Leo Kottke and Fahey—with a few clear influences such as the legendary Elizabeth Cotten.
Fifty years later, Taussig now wants to gingerly push listeners, saying that “Invention is again possible without obvious references to the past,” with an optimism that an artist can still go beyond postmodern plundering, in a world where seemingly everything that can be done has already been done.
How does Taussig accomplish this on Too Late to Die Young? It’s not through radical structures, although he weaves in and out of atypical time signatures for fingerstyle guitar, and a familiar thumbed two-bass-note backbone is ever-present here. What Taussig brings to the table is a subtly distinctive style that is a contrast from the effortlessly rolling work of, say, Kottke or Fahey.
His plucking can be forceful but not metronomic, with a sort of tentative feeling to the proceedings, even when in a more casual, sauntering mood. This injects tiny bits of tension into each note—the listener waits for a misstep that never happens.
Too Late to Die Young is in an unusual zone, between a calculated approach and a more organic, tempo-shifting looseness—it’s not exactly what most people would consider invention, although he forges a fascinating, identifiable musical personality.
Fatou Seidi Ghali & Alamnou Akrouni
Les Filles de Illighadad
The nonchalant manner the music starts on the west African album Les Filles de Illighadad from the duo of Fatou Seidi Ghali and Alamnou Akrouni catches the listener off-guard, with Ghali on guitar tuning up and playing warm-up notes that swiftly morph organically into impressively dexterous fingerpicking with an abundance of ornamental grace-note flutters.
In the background, ambient nature sounds are heard, and between songs which feature the gentle, unadorned singing of Akrouni, the listener can hear the sound of her clearing her throat, plus soft, incidental chatter not officially part of the show.
All of these elements set the mood with the informality of a campfire singalong, painting a picture of a rural, desert performance in the town of Illighadad in the Saharan nation of Niger with sonic blossoms sprouting in a setting that turns out to be anything but lifeless and barren.
There is so much great Tuareg guitar music coming from west Africa that it’s hard to keep up with it all, with proponents such as Bombino and the group Tinariwen leading the way, and the entrancing Les Filles de Illighadad is a worthy entry that casts a compelling spell upon the listener.
Two different approaches are taken on the album, with a side devoted to each. The first half features stunningly nimble acoustic guitar work balanced with naturally gorgeous vocals, with Ghali’s adept low-note bass pulse underneath her rapid, gazelle-like treble notes like on tracks such as “Telilit.”
The album’s second half features a single 18-minute tende performance with the duo leading a women’s vocal troupe, accompanied only by a hand-struck drum and handclaps to create a hypnotic beauty that makes time melt away, blissfully.
Kudos to the label Sahelsounds for, yet again, spotlighting obscure yet worthy-of-attention Tuareg music that can simultaneously nourish, rouse and lull.