Pleasant tunes but . . . Maal is too discreet a presence on his own album.
Jon Lusk 2009
Aside from last year’s live, acoustic download/vinyl-only album On The Road, Baaba Maal’s most recent studio recording was the fine back-to-roots Missing You (Mi Yeewni), way back in 2001. His involvement in Africa Express, touring and various extra-curricular activities seems to have kept him busy, but that doesn’t quite explain the rather slight nature of this latest offering.
Although it boasts a handful of pleasant and even memorable tunes, the overall impression of Television is that Maal is too discreet a presence on his own album. His famously strident vocals are surprisingly subdued and/or mixed down for the pop cross-over audience this is obviously aimed at. He never really cuts loose with what will always be his greatest asset.
Most of the material is co-written with his new producer Barry Reynolds, as well as Sabina Sciubba and Didi Gutman of the New York-based band Brazilian Girls.
It could, or perhaps should, be billed as a duet album with Sciubba, whose smoochy vocals in Italian and French appear a little too often and sound a little too samey. That impression is compounded by the fact that Tindo, A Song For Women and Tindo Quando almost seem to be versions of the same song, with very similar vocal riffs by Sciubba. The entire thing (apparently put together over three years) clocks in at just under 43 minutes, thus coming across as a mini-album with padding.
Even so, the uplifting groove of the title track is an impressively hypnotic opener, and deserves to be a hit. Tindo employs brooding desert blues atmospherics and Miracle’s easy reggae-ish lope reminds us of the similarity between the Jamaican style and Senegal’s yela. Although Maal’s English pronunciation on Dakar Moon may make some wince, the song has an agreeable Cuban lilt. And the balafon noodling away throughout Tindo Quando has a delightful simplicity. But the rest is pretty lightweight.
Maal has experimented less successfully with fusion/cross-over before, and Television is more accessible than, say, the dense and over-produced Nomad Soul. But as such a long- awaited ‘return’, Televison underwhelms.