Lamp Fall is the first international release from the Senegalese singer/songwriter and guitarist Cheikh Lô. Issued on World Circuit, it is a collection of traditional and original songs that heavily showcase his trademark mbalax drums, reggae grooves, and funky polyrhythms, with a host of colors and textures added by widely varying instrumentation. This time out, Lô goes to Brazil for inspiration -- about half the album's tracks were recorded in Bahia. Lamp Fall's opener, "Sou," is a traditional song with a radically different arrangement. It is sung in Bambara, the language Lô learned in Burkina Faso. It is a Mandinka song in origin, and comes form Mali. One can heard the Brazilian feel here in the employment of a sanfona accordion -- a close relative of the bandoneon. It is juxtaposed against a talking drum, as Lô's falsetto carries its melody -- a love song -- over. The title track was one of many recorded in Dakar and in London. Lamp Fall is a tribute to Cheikh Ibra Fall, a religious leader whose faith Lô belongs to. What's startling is the opening guitar chord, which sounds like it could have been lifted off James Blood Ulmer's Are You Glad to Be in America? Saxophone great Pee Wee Ellis blows hard and funky here against crisscrossing rhythms by Saliou Seck, accented by a Crescent City piano vamp played by Arona Barry. The Brazilian feel comes to the fore in "Satta Kaani Xeen," where castanets, wood blocks, cajon, and berimbau make up the main body of the tune lyrically and rhythmically. The band here is large, with a sitar, tama, bass clarinet, and Paulinho Andrade's flute orchestrating the melody. Ellis is heard fiercely in "Bamba Mo Woor," over the top of twin electric guitars riffing like hell, and fronting both Bigga Morrisson's Hammond B-3 and the rest of a horn section featuring Byron Wallen on trumpet and Tim Smart on trombone. The reggae groove here is deeply dread, shuffling and slipping along a bubbling bassline and Lô's sweet -- but not saccharine -- falsetto vocals. The only pure mbalax tune here is "Fattaliku Dëmb," where Lô plays a mean flamenco-style rhythm guitar part over the rolling drums and pumped bassline. It also features a fine guitar solo by Lamine Faye. In sum, Lamp Fall is a further extension of the already heady mix of styles, rhythms, and harmonics Lô has amassed over the past decade and a half. It's an utter joy in that it's so dense that most of its secrets won't be revealed until many repeated listenings are undertaken. That said, its sunny sheen and easy, airy atmosphere are intoxicating and elegant. This is early candidate for one of the best recordings of 2006.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek