THE HARD WAY
If you've been reading some of the bad reviews of 213's debut, I'll tell you what: A whole lot of critics have gotten it wrong. The album brings together two of hip-hop's most talented elder statesmen: Snoop Dogg, who has, despite his incessant weed smoking and occasional porn peddling, become as American as apple pie, and Nate Dogg (no relation), the perennial hip-hop hook-singer whose silky and soulful delivery has made raunchy rap choruses sound like the romantic croons of Teddy Pendergrass. Thrown in for good measure is Warren G, the half brother of super-producer extraordinaire Dr. Dre. Although Nate Dogg hasn't translated his cameos into any original contribution of relevance, his presence has always made almost any rap song better. And Snoop, of course, is Snoop, twisting words to produce stream-of-consciousness lines like "Coke with the Hennessy tends to be the remedy / Family and friends to me / Everyone pretends to be / Kin to me." This album has at least five hot tracks in "Absolutely," "Keep It Gangsta," "Another Summer," the blaxploitation-style throwback tune "Gotta Find a Way," and the hit single, "So Fly." How it's getting dissed is beyond me. But when the critics get it wrong, audiences get it right. The album just debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard charts.
ALEX P. KELLOGG
A piano prodigy, Rosa Passos abandoned the instrument and began to sing when she first heard Brazilian singer and guitarist Joao Gilberto. The Brazilian legend long had a profound effect on Passos's career, so it's only fitting that this CD is a tribute to Gilberto and his 1977 classic "Amoroso." Passos, also a guitarist, puts her own lovely spin on some of that album's best-loved songs, including "Besame Mucho" and the Gershwin standard " 'S Wonderful." The album is even engineered by Al Schmitt, who served in the same capacity on Gilberto's original album. Like her idol, Passos has a soothing swoon of a voice with contrasting flashes of playfulness and pathos that allows these songs to concoct an intoxicating spell, while her guitar playing is frisky, but never intrusive. Most of these songs are gentle ballads, jazzy flourishes, reminiscent of Stan Getz's bossa nova days, but are always percolating just beneath the calm surface. And when Passos gets the opportunity to swing, as on "O Pato,", a song Gilberto recorded with fellow bossa nova master Antonio Carlos Jobim, she's as charming as she is controlled. Another highlight is Jobim's "Chega de Saudade," offered here as a bonus track featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma. (Passos contributed to Ma's 2003 album, "Obrigado Brazil.") Jorge Calandrelli's lush production really shines here, and the song is a perfect coda for this pleasing homage.
You can't say this too often about a band, so take heed: Clinic sounds like the menacing street punks of "A Clockwork Orange" reimagined as a brooding art-rock band. The four men from Liverpool sound as dandy, detached, and, well, as clinical as their image suggests. They sport three-piece suits, derby hats, and surgical masks in press photos and in concert, for goodness' sake. Their last album, 2002's "Walking With Thee," snared serious fans who appreciated the band's thumping drums and slithering melodica solos. With Clinic's latest, "Winchester Cathedral" (which, for the record, is worlds removed from the sunny delight of the New Vaudeville Band's lone '60s hit of the same name), those fans should return in droves, since the album is nearly a carbon copy of "Walking With Thee." The big drums are here, the melodica still keeps the beat, and electric-guitar riffs storm up and down the scales. Ade Blackburn's seething vocals make you think he's grimacing on every song, as if he can barely contain his rage through a mouth full of cotton. "Falstaff," the album's first US single, is a bit of an oddity, smooth and sauntering with backup vocals that vaguely reference some sweet '60s love song, maybe even Linda Ronstadt's "Ooh Baby Baby." Clinic doesn't tread new paths here, but it's still on pretty solid ground. Clinic plays the Paradise Rock Club on Nov. 9.
ISLEY BROTHERS: TAKEN
TO THE NEXT PHASE
As a general rule, it's best not to mess too much with Isley Brothers classics, especially songs from their most fertile period in the 1970s -- which is what makes this album such a surprise. The tracks are billed as "reconstructions" instead of remixes; even with looped beats and additional vocals, Ronald Isley's unmistakable voice remains the anchor of the songs. These various producers, musicians, and rappers are working with Isley's vocals, instead of making the mistake of minimizing them for their own knob-twiddling. Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas turns "Tell Me When You Need It Again" into the playful "Tell of Tales," featuring a sample of A Tribe Called Quest's "Bonita Applebaum." One of the more radical departures is "It's a New Thing," from the Isleys' 1960s chestnut, "It's Your Thing," which in the hands of D-Nat & ONDA, and De La Soul, is presented as a straight rap song. Also worth noting is Steven "Lenky" Marsden's dancehall take on "Between the Sheets," which draws out the original's exotic feel, and with added vocals by Tanya Stephens, works much better than it has any right to.
The rap game has changed a great deal since the wildly popular Mase gave it up for the ministry five years ago. Judging from this comeback record, it has left him behind -- and who would have thought he'd drop something this overproduced, shallow, and lightweight? The opening title cut samples the theme to "Welcome Back Kotter" and it's about as lame as you might expect. Things don't pick up on the single, "Breathe, Stretch, Shake," a supposed party anthem featuring P. Diddy, who seems to do nothing more than shout in the background. The rest of the record features mediocre verses over amped-up musical tracks with candy-coated choruses, as on "My Harlem Lullaby," which will indeed put you to sleep with its slick appropriation of Madonna's "La Isla Bonita." What you don't get is any insight into why Mase dropped out, what he's learned, how he's changed. The boasts, the beats, the bling all could have come from 1997, when he debuted. There isn't a memorable line in any of the 12 tracks -- even his big statement song, "Gotta Survive," is a string of cliches. Hopefully, his job as a preacher is a secure one.