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Exclusive First Listen: Vieux Farka Toure

In 2006, Vieux Farka Toure released his self-titled debut album not long after the death of his father, the iconic Malian guitarist and singer Ali Farka Toure. It was an impressive opening to a career and a heartfelt passing of the torch. The ailing father sat in on two songs, as did Malian kora maestro Toumani Diabate, who shared a Grammy Award with the elder Toure in 2005. There was a mix of tradition and originality, a little reggae, a little pop and some very fine guitar playing. If the album felt a tad reserved and refined, that was appropriate for a young man taking the stage with large shoes to fill.

The long-awaited follow-up, Fondo, accomplishes many things. First and foremost, it firmly establishes young Toure as a bona fide African guitar hero. Africa — and Mali in particular — is a guitar paradise, but few of its famous axe-men can rock like this.

From the blistering opener "Fafa" to a closing duet with Diabate called "Paradise," Toure reveals effortless fluency with Malian traditions, from the bluesy, elliptical strains of his ancestral Sonrai music to the elegant melodicism of Diabate's Mande tradition.

What's more, Toure has learned something powerful from the long months he's spent touring the world with his band in recent years. He knows how to stretch out with a guitar solo, and how to appeal to the pumped-up sensibilities of rock fans without compromising his natural vibe.

Vieux composed all but one of the 10 songs on Fondo, and he recorded them with the help of bassist and seasoned producer Yossi Fine. Fine's background with driving, electronic, worldly dance music might have led listeners to expect a more experimental approach. But Fine mostly adds muscle and clarity to Toure's naturally organic sound. It's easy to feel the band at work on these tracks, and that's a good thing.

At a time when American and British rock musicians are finally turning to West African music and forging new varieties of African blues, here's one young Malian with the perspective and the chops to take on all comers at this game. Young Toure may never match the mystic serenity of his idiosyncratic father, but he has all the makings of a 21st-century African rock god.

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