Though Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been performing since the 1960s, it wasn’t until the a cappella group’s seminal work on Paul Simon’s 1986 Grammy-winning Graceland that the world truly took notice. But the South African group has always been on a cross-cultural journey working with fellow Africans, blues, jazz, hip-hop, soul, rock and country artists, among others.
Led by founder Joseph Shabalala, LBM’s strength—repeatedly evidenced here—is the ability to transform any song through vocal inflection, ranging from deep baritone to soaring tenor, including precisely timed shouts, shuffles, whistles, trills and animallike sounds (along with handclaps and foot stomps) for added depth and nuance. Bill Withers’ pop-soul classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” experiences a deep, soulful African reformation, while Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang,” featuring Lou Rawls, is fully realized with LBM as the chorus. “Mbube” with Taj Mahal is a standout—bluesy, moving and demonstrative in vocal accentuation. The group even teams with Dolly Parton for a twangy, reggae rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
It’s not all perfect though. Graceland hits “Homeless” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” appear on each disc, but the original versions satisfy completely. The remakes featuring Sarah McLachlan and Melissa Etheridge, respectively, don’t add anything to this otherwise excellent showcase. —Glenn BurnSilver
(This review appears online at Relix magazine.)