Tales of America
Countless young artists have emulated iconic predecessors like Bob Dylan, but Kenyan-born singer-songwriter J.S. Ondara is a Dylan disciple who managed to recenter his idol’s influence by applying a 21st-century immigrant’s perspective to his debut album. In songs like the a cappella “Turkish Bandana,” the sinuously bluesy “American Dream,” and the prayerful “God Bless America,” Ondara earnestly interrogates how the nation’s promises of welcome and prosperity can exclude outsiders. During the latter tune, he fingerpicks an acoustic guitar and quietly appeals, “Will you let me in, or are you at capacity? Will you set me free, or are you holding on to history?” Ondara sings with softly accented clarity over the warm glow and rootsy rustle of his production, drawing on Dylan’s poetic mystique and idealism rather than his trickster tendencies.