TINARIWEN, Aman Iman: Water is Life (World Village/Harmonia Mundi): The specters of John Lee Hooker, Jimi Hendrix and late countryman Ali Farka Touré arise from the propulsive, trance-inducing grooves generated by this rocking band of nomadic Tuareg rebels from Mali who famously picked up guns, then Stratocasters to fight for their Tamashek people’s rights, and who are making some of the most rhythmically compelling music to emerge from Africa since Fela Kuti. But their long, loping rhythms and alternately melodic and slashing guitar leads are all their own on 12 songs calling for unity while depicting the loneliness of exile, the beauty and brutality of the Sahara. Words chanted by the enthralling ensemble may be foreign, but the music is utterly magnetic.
RY COODER, My Name is Buddy (Nonesuch): Cooder follows 2005’s brilliantly kaleidoscopic street opera “Chavez Ravine” with folksier commentary, weaving together folk, blues, soul, bluegrass, conjunto and jazz threads in songs augmented in liner notes by mini-folk tales and Vincent Valdez’s black-and-white illustrations. The titular character’s a red cat whose hard-times rambles draw inescapable comparisons between Depression-era politics and contemporary conflicts; symbolism occasionally gets heavy-handed (e.g., “J. Edgar,” about a pig). Humor makes more effective points on “One Cat, One Vote, One Beer,” though longtime compadres like Van Dyke Parks, Jim Keltner, Flaco Jimenez, Mike and Pete Seeger, mandolinist Roland White, soul singers Terry Evans and Bobby King keep things interesting.
THE ROCHES, Moonswept (429 Records): Perennially spun in East Coast college dorms alongside Dylan, Joni and the Dead, the harmonious siblings return after a decade’s hiatus to warble tunefully about love, family and connection. “It’s the simple thing that matters,” Suzzy proclaims in “Us Little Kids.” Newcomers may crave more edge, though longtime fans will embrace their tartly smooth blend. Lucy Wainwright Roche’s bittersweet “Long Before” bodes well for the future, but Paranoid Larry’s “Jesus Shaves” and “No Shoes” best emblemize the Roches’ mix of whimsy and heart: “I had no butt and I complained about it all until I met a man who had no balls.” In stores Tuesday.
JIMMY MCINTOSH, Orleans to London (Arizona Club): Veteran axe slinger McIntosh trades some funky, rocking leads with Rolling Stone Ron Wood and “Hot Rod” Jeff Beck on this mostly instrumental treat for guitar geeks. Art, Cyril and Ivan Neville also add to the party, with Ivan’s soulful vocals making the overworked metaphor of “It Was a Virus” sound a whole lot better than it deserves. Forty-five percent of CD sales profits will reportedly help the Neville family recoup losses sustained during Hurricane Katrina.