Thursday, May 6, 2010

K'Naan - Troubadour

Rating: B+

I've written a lot about K'Naan of late. I was blown away when I saw him at House of Blues early last month. I noted his interview with Greg Kot (and he was also just on Kot and Jim DeRogatis' radio program Sound Opinions. And I was first introduced to him back at Austin City Limits. Still, I've been known to enjoy bands live better than I did on disc - recent efforts by Deer Tick, Le Loup, and Arctic Monkeys all fall into this category. In the final analysis, that's how I feel about Troubadour also; it's a fine album, but lacks the raw emotion of his live performance.

I can't fault him too much for that. The a cappella version of "Somalia," for instance, wouldn't translate as well to disc. K'Naan's extended descriptions of life in Mogadishu and his childhood wouldn't translate as well on disc. What they do, and maybe the slight edge that the disc lacks, is provide authenticity. K'Naan isn't Ice Cube rapping about shooting cops; he's talking about his real life, real danger from warlords, and a real fondness for his homeland despite all of its problems. Hip-hop is both blessed and cursed with an air of authenticity; Ice T's "Cop Killer" is taken much more literally than the downtrodden prisoner of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." The songs on Troubadour, however, are truth. On CD that sincerity can be glossed over, but live it's impossible to ignore.

I just equated K'Naan with hip-hop / rap, and that's not totally fair. Troubadour is an eclectic album, drawing from hip-hop but also Somali poetry, folk, reggae, and even rock and heavy metal. Most of the time this is interesting: "Take a Minute" as a subdued folk track, the boisterous "T.I.A." and the poppy "Fatima," the jumping "A.B.C.'s and the anthemic "Wavin' Flag," maybe the most inspiring piece of music released since Kanye West's "Jesus Walks." At times it falls flat, particularly towards the end of the album, where the reggae-tinged "Fire in Freetown," ode to Western Union "15 Minutes Away" and sleepy "People Like Me" drag things down considerably.

All in all, Troubadour is a strong album from a compelling voice in music. K'Naan's music is true, fearless, and he's an important figure to watch in hip-hop.

Buy it from Amazon:
K'Naan Official Site

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