The blues in the title of Richard Bona’s sixth solo effort refers more to the key notes in the folk music of all cultures that reach people’s hearts than to 12-bar progressions or lamenting lyrics. In his pursuit of this ethic, Bona undertakes his most ambitious merger of world music elements, yet the rewarding result is his most cohesive disc to date. Credit this to the Cameroon native’s ability to harness his considerable skills as a vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, orchestrator, and storyteller in service of the song. While on the surface this means neither bass solos nor big-name jazz guests, the quality is layers deep if the ears are willing. “Shiva Mantra,” recorded in Bombay, combines Indian instrumentation and incantation with powerful vocal hooks blanketed in warm fretless support. “African Cowboy” is an astute alliance of afrobeat and a bright country two-feel with prominent banjo and fiddle. A pair of elegant ballads, “M’Bemba Mama” and “Esukudu,” find Bona framing his vocals with big-toned upright and fretless, respectively, with nylon-string guitar, piano, and flute adding to the acoustic essence of both.
The rhythmic quotient is maximized on “Camer Secrets,” via its Afro-Cuban horns and layered meter in seven, Bona’s one-man sampling show, “Sona Moyo,” the severely-syncopated-bass-driven “Souleymane,” and the excellent “Kurumalete,” with its Zawinul-esque keyboard textures and overdubbed string hits. Elsewhere, “Good Times” and “Yara’s Blues” come closest to a blues tonality, the former a Jazz Bass-framed R&B shuffle delivered Stevie-style by the under-sung Frank McComb, the latter a 12/8 gospel-edged, organ-drenched love ode, sung by Bona in English. No matter how you shade it, Richard Bona possesses that most precious of gifts: his own musical voice.