African BluesPutumayo World Music, 2012

Ah, what a joy this album is. Mali Latino start things off in an unassuming but soulful way with bluesy acoustic guitar, plaintive vocal, jazzy Booker T-style Hammond organ, and relaxed percussion – a beautiful introduction to a beautiful compilation. Adama Yalomba follows with the lively “Djamakoyo,” featuring complex rhythm, handclap percussion, call and response vocals and a wondrous, light touch. Diabel Cissokho and Ramon Goose then offer “Totoumo,” which in its rhythms and delivery brings to mind none less than John Lee Hooker.

So it goes, track after track of powerful, amazingly varied blues of a sort we’ve not yet heard from the bluesmen of Chicago or the Delta or the Piedmont, and never will from the ten thousand blues-rock groups out there. You may or may not recognize some of the other groups and individuals involved: Amar Sundy, Issa Bagayogo, The Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar (performing here with Taj Mahal), Kalaban Coura, Koudede, Playing For Change (featuring Tinariwen), and Muntu Valdo.

Hailing mostly from West Africa (Mali figures prominently, no surprise), these musicians offer a wealth of diverse influences, including some very direct connections to the blues of the USA – and don’t even try to count the myriad musical genres nimbly touched on in “Groove in G.” As one might expect, instrumental virtuosity reigns throughout, so you won’t be the least bothered by the lack of English lyrics, or any lyrics at all in a few cases. As for the packaging, it’s of the well-presented, thoughtful kind we expect from the Putumayo label.

In summary, African Blues is a marvel of musical enjoyment, perhaps a revelation for lovers of traditional blues, definitely a pleasure for lovers of great music wherever it may be found.