On a diet of Richard Hawley records and scrambled eggs, just about anything heavy sounds similar to the Sheffield legend. An ever-present feel to Bombino, particularly on his Nomad record, is the heaviness of influence and the psychedelic blues which guide him. Where Sahel may fare better than earlier tracks Asamane Tiliade, they loosen the punchy beat which steered the instrumentals so hard into the heart. Maybe the ties between Hawley and Bombino come from the heartfelt core and the guitar disguise pulled over it like a thick sheet to hide away true intent. That comes from digging deeper, as is needed on latest album Sahel.
Those slick guitar skills are back in action for opener Tazidert, gliding through with a fine blur of psychedelic and prog-rock charms. Focus often rests on these instrumental moments but the passion present throughout, not just on the achingly lush moments of this opening track, are the real draw. Bombino provides an incredible playing style once more, not truly unique to those who are well-seasoned with rock, but bright and sparkling with a contemporary fervour which lends itself to an optimistic yet essential momentum which carries Sahel. Slower tones greet the listener on Alwane, another track which does well to dispel the moody, harsher tones of Bombino’s earlier work. There is an equally relaxed and immediate necessity for these tracks. Displaying the balance is no small feat, but the light touches of jazz-like energy on Aitma show just how it works so well.
In effect, this is the trouble Sahel has to conquer, despite it being the main draw of the album. Swaying backing instruments come around a monumental guitar set on Si Chilan, though it is hard to hear what else is there. Each track blurs the same immense talent into the same few categories. It is still a moving piece of experimentation but lacks the creativity and urgency the more it goes on. Still impressive as it goes on, the guitar work is essential in covering up the patchier bits and pieces. It is this interest which certainly lends Bombino’s name to discussions on great guitarists. He can take the tender ballads of Ayo Nigla and strain them into intimate pockets of culturally rich innovation.
Thematically diverse and certainly a step up from his already acclaimed work, Bombino stretches his abilities as a musician on Sahel. Old habits die hard, naturally, but the effort put in to come forward and mount a new break from his guitar-heavy focus is at least attempted. Hear the core of the album, realise it is family, and push on with personal warmth in mind. It is Bombino who hopes his aim is clear and although it is, it sometimes lacks the fatal blow which secures its relevancy and powerful commentaries. Flickers of this are followed up in the latter moments of the album, particularly Ayes Sachen, but the changes are too little, too late. Listen in to the guitar work, it makes it worth waiting around for Darfuq. Long and winding solos are the agenda here, and though it takes away from the meaningful words behind it all, Sahel comes to life when Bombino rifles off riff after riff.