Amadou and Mariam Welcome to Mali

The funkiest blind, married, French-speaking Afro-pop couple around, Amadou and Mariam return after 2005's Manu Chao-produced Dimanche à Bamako with a potent blend of electronic twists and guests spots for Welcome to Mali. While feature artist turns include guest producer and knob-twiddler Damon Albarn (leadoff track "Sabali," with Mariam's piercing vocals), K'naan and Keziah Jones on the rousing "Africa," and Amadou's desert blues guitar with Toumani Diabaté's sublime kora ("Djuru"), none can outshine the main attraction here. Playful call and responses, impassioned stories and meditations and wailing Malian violins over slow, bluesy jams — almost to the effect of a cuica over a slow samba canção — keep the focus on the world music duo now embraced by everyone from World Cup soccer fans to Scissor Sisters devotees. Yes, like mid-career Peter Gabriel, Amadou and Mariam are a safe world music act you can admit enjoying but that's also because they're brilliant, dynamic and passionate. (Because)