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Youssou N’Dour"The Guide (Wommat)” Chaos/Columbia* Times Line(tm):...

Youssou N’Dour

“The Guide (Wommat)”

Chaos/Columbia

* Times Line(tm): 808-8463. To hear an excerpt from “The Guide (Wommat),” call TimesLine and press * 5520

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Is anyone making more sophisticated, more soulful dance music today than Youssou N’Dour? His newest album, “The Guide (Wommat),” continues to make the case that the Senegalese singer and songwriter is in a class of his own.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that by listening to commercial radio. A haunting duet that pairs N’Dour with Neneh Cherry, “7 Seconds,” got some recent play on adult alternative radio, but N’Dour (who sings mostly in his native Wolof) doesn’t appear destined for U.S. stardom, despite the support of such fans as Peter Gabriel and Spike Lee.

Pity. Between the studied irony and electronic gimmickry of the techno crowd and the straitjacketed rhythms of rap, there would appear to be room for N’Dour’s potent combination of passion and musical firepower. N’Dour backs it up live, too: His band, Super Etoile de Dakar, can match chops with any group working.

“The Guide” plays like an extension of 1993’s knockout “Eyes Open,” a mesmerizing tapestry of mood and rhythm. Touches of blues, funk, jazz and soul are anchored in N’Dour’s polyrhythmic mbalax style. Horn-driven hooks play against spidery guitar lines. And then there’s the voice , a keening, expressive instrument that carries more than a trace of the Islamic influence that extends into West Africa.

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Highlights here include the wistful “Without a Smile (Same)”; the funky, groove-oriented “Mame Bamba”; “Generations,” with its gentle reggae-tinged lilt, and the quietly riveting “Life (Adouna).”

English translations of the lyrics are included, and they reveal a burnished simplicity in their tales of faith, responsibility, and sadness for the fading rural order in his African home. One need not read along to feel the passion at work, however. This is music that breaks the language barrier.


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