There was a time, in the 1970s and early 80s, when the National Railways of Mali could claim to employ the best house band anywhere in Africa, at the station hotel in Bamako. After all, Salif Keita began his career with the Rail Band, and after he had left, the new line-up included another great singer, Mory Kanté, along with that inspired guitarist Djelimady Tounkara. This double CD, the first in a set of three, is a reminder of those glory days that fails to quite do justice to this legendary band. There are some historic songs here, including the sturdy, rousing Soundjata, recorded in 1972 and featuring Salif Keita's soaring vocals on a praise song to the founder of the Mandingo empire. And there's an epic, if uneven, 28-minute treatment of the same theme, featuring both Kanté and Tounkara. It's a shame that the tracks have been assembled in an apparently random order from different periods of the band's career, rather than allowing each release to tackle a specific era.
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