By Bliss Bowen 08/28/2014

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TOUMANI DIABATÉ / SIDIKI DIABATÉ, Toumani & Sidiki (World Circuit): 4½ STARS

Sidiki made his professional name drumming with Malian rapper Iba One, though he’s been playing the kora since he was 10 years old — so no surprise he more than holds his own in 10 instrumental kora duets with his father, venerated kora master Toumani. The music’s depth arises from their differing approaches to expressing themselves through the 21-stringed harp. Occasionally (“Rachid Ouiguini”), their cascading exchanges resemble flamenco guitar; more often the music swirls and flows like a peaceful stream over stones, as with the melancholy “Lampedusa” and “Tijaniya.”

PAUL THORN, Too Blessed to Be Stressed (Perpetual Obscurity): 3 STARS

The scrappy Mississippian sounds more upbeat than ever, advocating secular as well as holy remedies (“Get You a Healin’”) and mining reassurance and humor from his surroundings, a la “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” (“I saw the devil down in Mexico/ He was rolling bums at the Texaco/ He handed me the dice but I said no”). Backed by his longtime band, with a few gospel harmonies from the McCrary Sisters, Thorn meets his stated goal of making funky, feel-good roots rock.

WAND, Ganglion Reef (God?): 3 STARS

Pretty acoustic guitar passages step aside for aggressive electric chords and slamming drums, before a sweet lead vocal and harmonies reveal the song’s pop heart. The track in question is “Flying Golem,” and it exemplifies the psychedelic-colored range Wand cover on their debut full-length. The LA-based foursome display a taste for fuzz-toned volume, but songs like “Broken Candle,” “Strange Inertia (Ctrl-Alt-Death)” and “Growing Up Boys” also showcase their compositional craft.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash’s Bitter Tears Revisited (Sony Masterworks): 4 STARS

Arriving in a summer steaming with protests against inequality, this handsome tribute from producer Joe Henry and blue-ribbon Americana artists reminds how relevant Johnny Cash’s once-controversial 1964 song cycle championing Native American rights remains. Milk Carton Kids swap out Cash’s trademark tic-tac rhythm for subtler grooves on “White Girl,” Kris Kristofferson (solidly backed by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings) invests Peter LaFarge’s “Ballad of Ira Hayes” with weathered gravitas, Rhiannon Giddens delivers a bluesy, Dobro-gilded “Vanishing Race” (written by Johnny Horton), and Mohican singer-songwriter Bill Miller gives the mandolin-driven title track, left off “Bitter Tears,” a poignant reading. Poetic justice.



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