Tinariwen are poet-guitarists and soul rebels from the Southern Sahara desert. Their music expresses the aspirations of their people, the Kel Tamashek or 'Touareg' of the southern Sahara desert. The guitar is their weapon. Simplicity is Freedom.
The expansive American experience that artist Lonnie Holley quilts together across his astounding new album, MITH, is both multitudinous and finely detailed. Holley's self-taught piano improvisations and stream-of-consciousness lyrical approach have only gained more purpose and power since he introduced the musical side of his art to the world in 2012 with Just Before Music, followed by 2013's Keeping a Record of It. But whereas his previous material seemed to dwell in the Eternal-Internal, MITH lives very much in our world - the one of concrete and tears; of dirt and blood; of injustice and hope. This is an angry album, a gutting album, a visceral album - but again, ultimately one of hope. Holley always brings it back to art, love and hope. It is how the 68-year-old son of Birmingham, Alabama survived a turbulent youth and young manhood in the Jim Crow South. It is how he thrives to this day as an artist. Holley's visual art assemblages, sandstone carvings and prints have, in recent years, been recognized by major institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MassMOCA and the National Gallery of Art for its import in the ever-evolving conversation of contemporary art.
Across these songs, in an impressionistic poetry all his own, Holley touches on Black Lives Matter ("I'm a Suspect"), Standing Rock ("Copying the Rock") and contemporary American politics ("I Woke Up in a Fucked-Up America"). He is a storyteller of the highest order. He commands a personal and universal mythology in his songs of which few songwriters are capable - names like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joanna Newsom and Gil Scott-Heron come to mind. The camera of his mind can zoom in on a scene of police brutality only to instantaneously zoom out, far into space, where Earth and all of humanity hang as a dust speck in the cosmos. Some of these songs were first shaped just before the 2016 presidential election ("I'm a Suspect," "Back For Me," "I Snuck Off The Slave Ship"), capturing the mood of that moment and all that has transpired since. They're somber, poignant and curiously comforting, serving as a sort of Chicken Soup for the Disenchanted American Soul.
MITH was recorded over five years in locations such as Porto, Portugal; Cottage Grove, Oregon; New York City and Holley's adopted hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. These 10 songs feature contributions from fellow cosmic musician Laraaji, jazz duo Nelson Patton, the late visionary producer Richard Swift, saxophonist Sam Gendel and producer/musician Shahzad Ismaily. Across the whole of MITH, there are lounge piano vamps; thundering horns; drifting synths; and always, always Holley's singular, keening voice - oftentimes dancing with itself. Taken together, these tones, words and songs create a mirror world to our own, one in which we must look deeply and do some tough reckoning.
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