K. Leander Williams
March 25, 2009 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Damon Albarn’s splendidly atmospheric keyboards and production move Amadou & Mariam, the blind blues couple from Mali, beyond their comfort zone — much as globalist rocker Manu Chao did for the duo’s 2005 breakthrough, Dimanche a Bamako. Chao returns on Welcome to Mali for a couple of tracks, yet the pair’s focus has clearly shifted back to the earthy funk of guitarist-bandleader Amadou Bagayoko, which served as their calling card before they resettled in Paris more than a decade ago. The old formula, while rootsy, gains much from the injection of variety. B+

Download This: Listen to the song ”Sabali” on last.fm

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