Gone but not forgotten, New! Now!

World Touré

Ali Farka Touré was the guitarists’ guitarist, his bony-fingered multi-flowing rhythms sending chattering and cascading African blues out into the dusty ether. His speciality was in finding the sweet spot in which to riff, his band of tribal-robed desert bluesmen laying down and locking in to the steady groove to allow him the freedom of expression on top. His playing was nothing short of breath-taking; dextrous and elastic, primal yet boundary-pushing, a Saharan sand-coated John Lee Hooker, flash but without the player himself being flashy. When Ali took off, you took off with him.

Out this week is something of a tribute record to his songs and legacy. Ali’s son Vieux has teamed up with everyone’s favourite Texan guitar artists Khruangbin and, in what’s becoming something of a habit with the trio, created an interesting and highly musical collaboration.

Named simply Ali, the album is a real beauty, with Vieux taking the essence of his father’s music and passing it over to Khruangbin to add their respectful and reverential twist.

Midway through you’ll find the effortless Tongo Barra, five and a half minutes of clean and chiming, freeflowing high line guitar, an ever-moving, shape-shifting enigma with more melody per mile than the entirety of your record collection combined.

It’s a magnificent example of what happens when two worlds collide. Vieux, with his chanting, expressive Malian vocals and peerless guitar playing surfing atop a glorious gumbo of Khruangbin magic. Drums and bass are locked tight but loose, verging almost towards Fools Gold territory in places; solid and repetitive, driving forward but with space to breathe, to stand aside and admire.

Touré’s guitar is non-stop and continual, intertwined with Mark Speer, his Winkleman-fringed six string foil in Khruangbin, gushing like a burst and overflowing NYC fire hydrant in the sun. Hammer ons, pull offs, double and triple stops, spidering up the frets and slinking back down again, a funky one chord head nodding groove, powered, if these old ears don’t deceive me, by a cranked-up Roland Jazz Chorus and played with nary a hint of effort.

Right now, Tongo Barra hangs above all other music like an omnipresent and fluid dust cloud. I can’t get enough of it.

Get This!

Airplane 2

Hitting the shelves this week – ‘dropping‘, to use modern parlance – is the eagerly-awaited follow up to the Texas Sun record that Khruangbin did in collaboration with fellow Texan Leon Bridges. On Texas Sun, dustbowl desert guitars gently twanged with ambient reverb across four tracks of gospel-tinged southern soul and, from what has been heard so far, Texas Moon seems to follow in the same rich vein.

If this happens to be your first introduction to Khruangbin (and Leon Bridges too for that matter – a guitar totin’ troubadour with a proper caramel-coated, take-it-to-church soul voice), you could do worse than dip a toe into a pair of back catalogues awash with rippling guitar and beautifully considered complementary bass lines. Let’s focus for now on Khruangbin.

KhruangbinSo We Won’t Forget

So We Won’t Forget wanders in, cocksure and insistent, the result of an unholy alliance between the Bhundu Boys and the near-cousin of Lovely Day‘s bass line ; a groovy, heady mix of chiming, chattering African highline six string and sighing girl group despondancy that carries you away in its cooing breeze for five joyous minutes.

Ideal music for lying underneath an inky black panoramic sky of constellations or for soundtracking the wee small hours as you fight off the urge to fall asleep, So We Won’t Forget is a rare dichotomy of music that sends you to sleep while making you simultaneously want to dance in floaty, unselfconscious abandon.

Khruangbin (it translates as ‘aeroplane‘ in Thai) have undeniable style in clothes as well as music. Focal points Laura Lee and Mark Speer permanently peek from beneath a pair of perfectly-sculpted fringes that even Claudia Winkleman might find irritating.

Their clothes are never less than considered – Laura takes pride in wearing a different outfit for every show Khruangbin plays (600+ at the last count). Mark is the best-dressed drip of water on the planet, poured into rake thin, mile long ’70s lounge suits that might’ve come from the wardrobe department of a Hollywood movie set. The quiet man at the back, DJ Johnson Jnr on drums is more sartorially understated, preferring instead to let his pistol crack snare and rattling hi-hats add the requisite flash.

KhruangbinEvan Finds the Third Room

You get the impression that the musicians in Khruangbin could outplay just about anyone on the planet; the funk-infatuated drummer, the on-the-one wandering and popping basslines played with great touch and feeling and those free-form bubbling guitar passages, slow bent one moment, rapidly fired the next, that wouldn’t sound out of place on the end credits of an arthouse movie, or perhaps a pivotal slo-mo scene in a Tarantino box-ofice smash.

The trick though, as Khruangbin know fine well, is to consider the notes that aren’t played. Those missing notes are what gives the music of Khruangbin a feel as wide and expansive as the Chihuahuan Desert and a groove that’s positively out-there and gravity-defying.

 

Get This!, New! Now!

Leon On Me

Currently rolling across the airwaves via your more clued-in radio presenters is Texas Sun, a heady collaboration between unlikely bedfellows Leon Bridges and Khruangbin.

Bridges is the very epitome of studied soul cool; the voice an amalgamation of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, dress sense as lean and sharp as a pair of fifties Cadillac fins, and two albums into what you suspect might be a career that’s worth following.

Fellow Texans Khruangbin are also two albums to the good. Both are built around an anything-goes policy and the trio frequently magpie influences as disparate as r’n’b, psychedelia and foreign language and stir them into a heady soulful stew. 2018’s Con Tudo El Mundo should be your first point of reference if you’re unfamiliar with them.

A year in the melting pot, the 4 tracks on the collaborative EP grew out of shared tours and jam sessions and, in the shape of the title track, has yielded a modern-day stone-cold classic. Texas Sun blows like tumbleweed across a vast dustbowl landscape, big sky music that’s widescreen, expansive and wrung out on reverb and twang.

 

Caressing you from Fort Worth to Amarillo,” coos Bridges, his voice a controlled ol’ King Cole croon. “Come on roll with me ’til the sun dips low.” Weeping pedal steel slides effortlessly from the beautiful glowing orange grooves and out into the ether. Ghostly falsettos provide colour and tone in the background. And the guitar, strung-out and slow-burning, carries the whole thing home. It’s only February but if a better Lone Star State-borne shuffling love ballad is released this year I’ll head on out to the nearest Joshua tree and jab a cactus in my good eye.

The rest of the EP hasn’t yet quite matched the heights of the lead track – although I suspect at least two of them are proper growers that by this time next week will be perhaps on a par with the opener – but across those other 3 tracks there are plenty of vintage soul-influenced chops – rattlin’ wah-wah, understated Fender bass, Mayfield flutes, vibes, even a smarty pants Isaac Hayes sample – and a proper old-skool analogue sound from the production to sate your inner seventies soul boy. It’s a great record. Hopefully, an album will follow…