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Chris Brokaw, Chris Eckman and Hugo Race

Backed by the Tuareg band Tamikrest

Lobi Traore, Fatimata Walet Ourmar (Tartit) A

and members of The Symmetric Orchestra

CD*/vinyl*/ digital download - out now on Glitterhouse Records

*with a bonus DVD containing a documentary, 3 music videos and 4 bonus songs










A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Dirtmusic consists of three seasoned musicians: two Americans, originally, from opposite sides of the States – Chris Eckman of the Pacific Northwest, leader of acclaimed US band The Walkabouts, and Chris Brokaw from NYC, who’s collaborated with many musicians, including Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and, Australian Hugo Race, who has been, among other things, an original member of The Bad Seeds.  But Dirtmusic’s cross pollinating has, more recently, shifted onto an even more seemingly, arid landscape, namely, that of The Desert Festival in Essakane near Timbuktu in 2008, where they first encountered Tuareg band Tamikrest and discovered a whole world of sounds they’d been unwittingly gravitating towards until then. A year later, Dirtmusic returned to this region to record an album with Tamikrest, (with whom they’d jammed non-stop in ’08), at Studio Bosgolan in Bamako, resulting in BKO (short for Bogolan airport) and, to produce Tamikrest’s debut release - Adagh. BKO is experimental in the truest sense of the world, as it is the result of, as Dirtmusic’s Chris Eckman clarified, his group, and Tamikrest spending ‘2 days in a studio, jamming and writing songs’ and on....’Day three (we) – press recorded and saw what we got.’ If BKO represents the results of those full on, limited experiments, one can only imagine what more lengthily studio time may yield.

The group’s name, like that of The Velvet Underground, was gleaned from the title of a novel, in their case - Dirtmusic by Australian author Tim Winton, whose protagonist Luther Fox speaks of music as ‘anything you could play on a verandah. You know without electricity. Dirt music.’

This generously packaged CD comes with an ample booklet, featuring the lyrics to all of its songs, articles and photos galore, and a DVD offering a brief, but succinct documentary about Dirtmusic’s meeting and subsequent collaboration with Tamikrest, as well as three videos, all of which are, thankfully, low key, two of which offering fascinating footage of Tamikrest’s desert homeland. Its compelling stuff which really sets the mood, and is recommended viewing - best watched before you listen to BKO, as it provides listeners with a solid background, the better to appraise from. It would in turn, be best to listen to BKO before you take in the four bonus tracks included on the bonus DVD.


 BKO’s first track, ‘Black Gravity’ introduces us to the aridness of the desert at an ambling pace, which may possibly be familiar to Sticky Fingers Stones fans, but the song’s guitar licks and democratically shared vocals, with Christopher Brokaw singing in English and Tamikrest leader Ousmane Ag Mossa in his native Tamashek, separately yet collectively speaks more of their sense-heightening surroundings during the course of this recording, with their seemingly, horizon-less perspectives.

Before you even entertain thoughts of dousing the enthusiasm of this hybrid group’s rendering of The Velvet Underground classic, ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, pause and plug into it, as it is best experienced through the open lens of improvisation and pure, down home, albeit supremely enhanced, jamming. In addition, this pepper-potted mix is blessed with superb vocals from sublimely talented Fadimata Walet Oumar of famed Touareg group Tartit. A word of advice however - if you really want to be able to continue to appreciate the multi-layered performance of this song, by all means, steer clear of its’ accompanying video on the DVD disc, as its’ cuteness tends to downplay it.

At its outset, ‘Ready for the Sign’ puts us back onto higher ground, as in less familiar, more variable terrain. As the song progresses, however, its’ restrained vocals sometimes seem a tad too folksy for its own good, as the accompanying instrumentation sounds as though it could branch out further than it does, and in more directions, and as a result, the finished recording makes you wonder what this song might have become if it had.

Number four, ‘Desert Wind’ is one of this collection’s finest tracks. Its’ lead vocals strike just the right balance against its shifting musical background and the marvellously plaintive, wailing vocals of  Fadimata Walet Oumar representing the ‘voices you hear when you camp in the desert at night,’ according to Dirtmusic’s Hugo Race, who had been told ancestral tales of desert voices by Toureg people. Unexpectedly striking guitar work near the conclusion of the track adds a further dimension.

‘Lives We Did Not Live’ may seem a converse title for such an upbeat sounding rock number, but the song’s lyrics make this contrast not only excusable, but understandable, via hooking, repetitive phrases, echoed by rebounding guitar licks, designed to drive its’ don’t waste time message home.

‘Unknowable’ has an intriguing opening, making us wonder where the song will go next. But it’s ‘Fool on the Hill’ flatness may test the patience of those who wait - for what? Beats? More texture? Be that as it may, the song’s flower child influences steer neatly clear of Haight Ashbury, moving us towards more unrecognisable waters. But perhaps that is the song’s point. After all, its’ lyrics speak of taking a chance on the unknown.

Easy does it for the ‘Smokin’ Bowl, but its gritty lyrics fuse nicely with knowing vocals and hand drum lead instrumentation, making for a pleasing blend of Dirtmusic meets Tamikrest that epitomises all that’s best about this jam infused collection, spawned against a pleasing backdrop of desert blues.

‘Collisions’ seems to further this easy riding notion, wearing shades of Crosby, Stills and Nash on its free flowing sleeves, making me think that on their own, Dirtmusic might at times, offer an amiable Neil Young alternative for the more rock inclined. The singing on this track is very engaging, as is its capable, catchy guitar and presentation, both of which are more full on and telling than that of its two predecessors.

To my ears, ‘Niger Sundown’ is one of the shining jewel of this collection, as it is a stunning composition, full of shimmering, lingeringly beautiful passages, replete with sounds suggestive of nocturnal splendours. Although it is an instrumental, it is a track I will invariably revisit repeatedly.

Warm and mellow guitar-based ‘Bring it Home’ does just that, rounding off this collection in a way that makes it seem as if we’ve gone full circle, possibly offering glimmers of what this collaboration is like at its most ‘Dirtmusic’ in the process. Though it seems, on further listening that their collaboration with Tamikrest has risen on this track, not necessarily to its full flowering, as its’ apparent these two groups could experiment from one sundown to the next, but into the spotlight.



Dirtmusic appears with Tamikrest at London’s Borderline on Thursday, May 19th, 2010









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