Allgigs (UK)

Planet Solitaire – Sometimes you stumble across a musician who defies definition. This can be a good thing, or a very bad thing. Walter Strauss possesses a paradigm of monikers – Walter certainly isn’t ‘rock and roll’ and ‘Strauss’ evokes the image of large ballrooms and sweeping orchestral movements. Thankfully there isn’t much evidence of either, but what you do have with “Planet Solitaire” is a rare breed of world-fusion that actually works.

Strauss is a master of the picking-style of guitar-playing favoured by African musicians such as the late Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate, plus also jazz-luminaries such as Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie and the totally non-classifiable Vini Reilly – plus he can also sing with a resonating sub-baritone quiver. Bastard. Aside from a respectful and busy reading of Woody Guthrie’s, “The Great Historical Burn” and George Harrison’s, “Within You, Without You”, much of this engaging album is comprised of West African traditional and self-penned innovations.  If you are slavering at the thought of me sticking the boot into another irksome, twee and mawkish ‘world-music’ dribbling from a WOMAD reject – seriously, think again. Walter Strauss kicks global arse and is a serious contender.

Intricacy is the name of the game, to start with, and “Djeli”, “Gypsydish” and “Djimbaseh” are perfectly-executed acoustic workouts that may well serve a purpose for wine-tasting sessions in Clapham, but are more suited to kicking back on a sandy enclave in Cornwall, Kent or the Western Isles. Basically, much of Strauss’s work knows no boundaries, yet appeals to anyone with a mind broad enough to enjoy the technical and emotional skill that this man can bang out. When he sings, as on the Woody Guthrie tune, he holds his own, but his real forte is when playing acoustic guitar – the man is a wizard. He’s even learnt the workings of the king of African stringed-instruments, the kora, for the closing track and “Soutoukou”, a cracking piece derived from the renowned icon, Mamadou Diabate. This whole album is so good, I’m genuinely surprised that ECM or RealWorld haven’t licensed this enthralling set of songs. It encompasses Western classical and jazz-values, plus rootsy African and Americana with bewildering aplomb. Hello major-labels, get your cheque-books ready! – Paul Pledger