On his latest recording, Neighborhoods, issued by Atlantic Records, Dara would seem to be at a disadvantage. After all, everyone knows what he's capable of now. But rather than freezing up or becoming self-conscious, he simply lets the music flow as sweet and slow as freshly tapped molasses. He's so confident that he kicks off the disc with "Massamba," a lovable goof of a song about a member of his band, Congolese conga player Coster Massamba, whose name is spelled out in the lyrics as if it's a word every grade schooler should know by heart. That's followed by the catchy, eccentric "Herbman" (it's about healing plants and cooking ingredients, not that other herb on your mind), the wonderfully vivid, bluesy "Strange Things Happen Everyday," and the richly atmospheric "Used to Be," in which guest vocalist Cassandra Wilson's luxurious pipes make a marvelous match with Dara's humble but eloquent ones.
What's best about the songs Dara is playing these days is their effortlessness. He blends together nearly every intrinsically American musical style -- a seemingly difficult trick -- yet the results seem as natural as breathing. The surprise may have worn off, but the satisfaction sure hasn't.