Talitres Thee, Stranded Horse and Ballake Sissoko -12"- (F/ML,2009)****'
I listened a couple times to this new release by Thee, Stranded Horse, a project by Yann Tambour (Encre), here a duo with Mali kora master Ballake Sissoko. The sound of the kora alone, in this release sounds like the most beautiful colourful string instrument I have heard in years : I really had this wow feeling that this is the instrument I was looking for for years which would fit better with my personality, and which gives a more perfect balanced sound between a lot of instruments, while from all these other instruments like guitar, harp, lyre, zither, sitar, you name I felt I was something missing. If you like the wonderful rare instrumental improvisations on records from 2 twelve-strings at once this is even more subtle, and yet rhythmic drive, melody and colourful creation of sound are also in balance wonderfully. But also when the Kora (West African harp with calabash resonance chamber) is combined with acoustic guitar, it is as if four fingers are melted into one inspirator, one improviser, with minstrel like qualities. 3 English songs and one French song are sung by Yann, with improvised instrumental parts, while changing pitch, colour and intonation in his voice. On the first track there’s at first a touch of a softened and folkier Neil Young, with more warmth and minstrel qualities and evolution, while the second song starts a bit more with a half sung spoken word inspiration in between Current 93 and Simon Finn’s emotions, before warming up into the healing sounds again. The French song is with the most introverted and pastoral energy, while the last song swings more, smoothfully, like a colourful fantasy, with a happy sweet-bluesy touch. Highly recommended ! One of the best acoustic releases of this year so far.
Only afterwards I have read that the four songs were re-worked versions from the band’s previous, and second album “Churning Strides” (2007). The duo planned further live gigs. Influences of inspiration span Western African Delta Blues, French chanson, Tyrannausaurus Rex and perhaps John Fahey, John “Missisipi” Hurt, all favourites on myspace.
I loved the previous LP and EP I had from Thee Stranded Horse, as this project was called before. On first hearings in a big environment or room, with not much, perhaps not enough bass coming through, for a few songs, the voice with kora through the sound of this production seemed to be a bit more lost in its cold open space, as if these singings were slightly neglecting or getting behind it's music instrument qualities. Such moments of stronger song focus could have used a second voice or more strings to balance out all these higher tones in the singing. But with the best headphones it all still sounded perfect enough to me. It will still take another listen before I really come to a real review of this album. Basically this is a singer-songwriter album. Not as usual as a singer/songwriter with a guitar. More often the kora is used giving a different sound to the guitar with a different variety. A few songs are starting with acoustic guitar, then strings and kora is added. These always combine well, like the few overdubs. A few songs are in French. Very enjoyable !
PS. Another non-African Kora player, from the UK is Wig Smith