Justin Adams / Juldeh Camara
Tell No Lies
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2009, Volume 16, #11
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Thu November 5, 2009, 06:30 AM CST
In its initial moments, Sahara — the opening track on Tell No Lies, Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara’s sophomore set — is likely to inspire a feeling of déja vu. Within the span of 45 seconds, Adams rips an accompaniment on his guitar that liberally quotes from Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. In the process, he offers a short thesis on the convergence of blues, rock, and West African music that is more precise and revealing than he probably realized.
Soul Science — the previous collaboration between Adams and Camara — provided listeners with an exploration of modern and traditional fare from Gambia as well as the African desert that was spirited but respectful. On the outing, Adams displayed his mastery of various musical forms, freely following Camara’s rifti grooves through some very interesting territory. The similarities between Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir and what the two men had conjured were striking. At the very least, it made an airtight case that the British quartet was far ahead of its time when it had begun to explore sub-Saharan textures.
Yet, it is a disservice to Adams and Camara to call their music a curiosity. After all, it does more than simply locate the roots of Led Zeppelin’s majestic-sounding compositions. Adams, of course, has been a member of Robert Plant’s backing band for several years, but his love of North African music goes well beyond anything that Plant has incorporated into his own solo work.
For certain, while crafting Tell No Lies, Adams and Camara had a tough act to follow. Soul Science, the album’s predecessor, won the prestigious BBC Radio 3 World Music Award, which inevitably made expectations for the duo’s follow-up recording exceedingly high. Thankfully, in every respect, Tell No Lies is a better album. Adams, Camara, and returning percussionist Salah Dawson Miller have developed the kind of sensitive telepathy that allows them to anticipate and follow each other through the twists and turns of their compositions.
On Tell No Lies, Camara in particular seems much more willing to take risks. The music that flows from his rifti is staggering. There are moments when he sticks with a style of playing that is more traditional, and when he does, the high-wailing caterwaul of his instrument establishes a drone over which Adams shreds his guitar. More often than not, however, Camara uses his rifti to explore R&B expressions in ways that have to be heard to be believed. At other times, he invokes sounds that recall Muddy Waters with a bad hangover, as if he is trying to answer the question B.B. King’s famously posed: How blue can you get? Adams also frequently takes the lead by spinning Sufi-derived dance textures that weave in and out of Camara’s apocalyptic rhythms. Adams’ raw, aggressive, sculptural soundscapes give Camara and Dawson the chance to really go outside the main melody. The result is some of the most thrilling improvisational music in recent memory.
Tell No Lies is much heavier than Soul Science. Whether they are nailing a Bo Diddley-inspired rhythmic cadence (Nangu Sobeh) or exploring gentler grooves (Chukaloy Dayoy), Adams and Camara perform with skill and commitment, forming songs that are dazzling to hear. For those who are unfamiliar with music from the African desert, it might take awhile to acclimate to Tell No Lies’ contents. Yet, the rewards of perseverance are more than worth it. ½
Of Further Interest...
Tell No Lies is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box