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Afro Celt Sound SystemAfro Celt Sound System
Album: The Source
Label: ECC
Tracks: 13

Afro Celt releases are always a cause for much celebration and excitement, but when it happens to be their first studio album in 10 years then it's time to dust off the Babycham glasses and raise a toast to a band / collective that from as far back as 1996 and their debut album "Volume 1: Sound Magic", have ploughed a unique musical path, and have forged an identity that is immediately recognisable as their own.

I came across them just as that first album was released, catching them at a very small festival in an old military fort in Gosport, Hampshire, of all places. I'd never heard of them, and didn't know who they were, but by god, by the time they'd finished a spellbinding set I knew that this was one band that had something special to offer. As the band left the stage people in the crowd were just turning to each other, stunned, and wondering "where the hell did that come from?". The next day I made the trip into Portsmouth city centre and HMV to purchase said album. "Oh, you went to see them last night?" said the guy behind the counter. "just that we've had a stream of people all day trying to get hold of the album!". Suffice to say that the album had sold out, but when I did finally get hold of a copy it was exactly what I had expected and was well worth the effort. And that is something that I have found with every Afro Celt release since.

In that respect, "The Source", is no different. Core members Simon Emmerson, Guinean vocalist, kora and balafon virtuoso N'Flay Kouyate, and the legend that is dohl master Johnny Kalsi are joined by a colossally kaleidoscopic cast that includes long-standing collaborators such as Davy Spillane and Emer Mayock on uillean pipes and whistles, Moussa Sissoko on djembe and talking drum, and members of Scottish folk fusionists Shooglenifty (who contributed to that very same debut release). It's a potent mix of worldwide musical talent, and one that helps this long-awaited album explode into life.

"Calling In The Horses" and "Beware Soul Brother", the latter featuring the devotional harmonies of Guinean female quintet Les Griottes, set the spirit to slow-burn until the album suddenly turns on it's axis to stunning effect as Afro Celts join forces once more with the full-on Dohl Foundation experience in "The Magnificent Seven". It's a veritable musical and rhythmic cornucopia, and in essence it's what these guys do best. Melody and beats in perfect sync. Head and heart in unison.

"Cascade" and "A Higher Love" keep the momentum on point, lots of clever little tunes intertwining their way through the songs, some subtly, some not so. There are always lots of ideas thrown into the mix on most Afro Celt songs, but it's by no means a 'kitchen sink' approach. It's done in such an intelligent way that the best way I can describe it, is that there are probably 3 or 4 songs bursting to get out of each Afro Celts track! It's that crammed full of inventive ideas!

"Honey Bee" and "The Communicator" bring the funk to the party, with Bootsy-esque bass lines to the fore, colliding effortlessly with the Bhundu-style beat and signature Afro Celt vocal refrains. "Desert Billy" introduces rollin' rockabilly guitars and the album finishes in typical dynamite style with "Kalsi Breakbeat", reminiscent of their live shows, where spectacle, driving upbeat rhythms, soaring uillean pipes and just as importantly, fun, are the order of the day. It's a wonderfully climactic ending to an album that lives up to all the expectations placed upon it.

"The Source", a full decade on since "Anatomic", is a firm statement of intent. It's big, bold, energetic, pushes the musical envelope just that little bit further, and is in essence the Afro Celts announcing that they are indeed back with the proverbial bang. Already a contender for "Album Of The Year", and one that is sure to win this band an army of new followers. Accept no substitute.

Ken Brown