Baaba Maal Missing You

Maal has put out some slick, overproduced dreck in his career as one of the great African voices. His best album remains his lower-key debut with Mansour Seck. With Missing You, he has taken the new millennium approach to worldly crossover: a high-tech field recording. The producer for the task is an interesting choice - John Leckie of Radiohead and Stone Roses fame. This is an outdoors record in location only; yes, this is Maal's band playing live and without keyboards, but the mix is strictly studio. This isn't a bad thing; it's more like heightened reality, and Leckie's rock background makes for a different sounding record. The skilful placement and treatment of stringed instruments and mid-range frequencies is accomplished far more effectively than most "world" albums. Maal, of course, sounds fantastic and his songwriting is excellent. Most tunes are more laid back than his dance floor attempts of the mid-'90s, but he and the band have no trouble getting down, as on the charging "Fa Laay Fanaan." The only misstep is the last track, "Allah Addu Jam," which could soon be appearing in a car commercial near you. This record finally captures Maal's talent, I wonder where he'll go from here? (Palm Pictures)