In 1996, an unknown jazz-blues vocalist named Madeleine Peyroux delivered a stunning album called "Dreamland" and then promptly disappeared. The set was marked by inspired choices and smart interpretations -- tunes such as "Walkin' After Midnight," "Reckless Blues," "La Vie en Rose," and "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down (and Write Myself a Letter)" -- and invited endless comparisons to Billie Holiday. But fans who anticipated a follow-up record were left hanging. Eight years later, it has arrived -- and it's even richer than the first. She still sounds like Billie, but her style -- which draws as much from pop and country as from blues and jazz -- and her choices have grown still more eclectic. Here she tackles Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love," Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," W.C. Handy's "Careless Love," and Elliott Smith's "Between the Bars" with equal aplomb, and with daring originality. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Peyroux returns to us in the wake of Norah Jones's ascension -- Jones collaborator Jesse Harris co-wrote Peyroux's bouncy "Don't Wait Too Long," a fabulous piece of songcraft that sounds perfectly at home among the other material. Peyroux dazzles with the sensuality and passion she infuses into her work. It would be a cliche to say this album is worth the wait, because we'd much prefer to have four or five other Madeleine Peyroux discs in our collection by now.
Early buzz had it that Dizzee Rascal, the East London rapper who became a critical hot boy with his 2003 debut, "Boy in Da Corner" (released here earlier this year), had made his sophomore album more "accessible." Hence, even before this CD's release, some worried that Dizzee, eager to find a stateside audience to equal his rabid British fans, had altered his style to suit pedestrian mainstream hip-hop tastes. They needn't have worried -- Dizzee, born Dylan Mills, is just as ferocious as ever. Yes, there's more meat on his beats, such as the '80s New Wave of "Stand Up Tall," or even the sputtering techno of "Everywhere." He slows things down briefly on "Get By" with singer Vanya, and "Dream" deftly weaves in lyrics from "Happy Talk" from the musical "South Pacific" -- it recalls Jay-Z's use of "It's the Hard Knock Life" from "Annie" for the hit "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto
STRAIGHT OUT OF CA$HVILLE
Judging from the boffo sales of Young Buck's solo debut, you could say the G in G-Unit stands for gold as the 23-year-old follows Lloyd Banks and 50 Cent up the charts. What it doesn't signify is great. Buck -- born David Brown -- is a sturdy MC with plenty of attitude but very little range. We've visited his mean streets many times before, and the vistas have been more vividly evoked. Still, Buck brings his rhymes with an urgency and immediacy and he's convincing even if the material is overly familiar. "Bonafide Hustler" and "I'm a Soldier" feature 50 Cent -- and Buck holds his own with his mentor, while "Thou Shall" is a blueprint thug anthem. "Bang Bang," which samples Nancy Sinatra, is a killer track that's about as nihilistic as hip-hop gets. The Tennessee rapper shows his Southern heritage on the roundelay with Lil' Flip and David Banner, "Welcome to the South," which has a greasy charm. And producer Lil Jon squeezes out sparks for the bumpy "Shorty Wanna Ride." All mainstream stuff for sure, but with enough grit and force to prove that Young Buck can cash in without selling out.
LET'S BOTTLE BOHEMIA
Follow-up albums are tricky when they trail a triumph like the Thrills' 2003 debut, "So Much for the City," a wide-eyed love letter to Southern California that went platinum in the UK and landed the previously unknown Irish quintet an opening slot on the Pixies' fall tour. The Thrills opted to maximize their breakout success by recording their new songs last year in the midst of playing 200 shows and soaking up the accolades. The quick turnaround infuses their playing with casual, vigorous precision and the manic excitement of their fame. It also means they haven't had much time to take it all in -- the lyrics are saturated with cutting comments about the vapid nature of celebrity that can sometimes sound smug. "Whatever Happened To Corey Haim?" is one of several songs that would have benefited from being given more time to percolate. It's plastered with sticky layers of flashy strings and lacks the richly textured rock 'n' roll foundation of the group's best songs. But other moments sparkle with an easy spirit and wit, like the brassy, piano-laced rocker "Our Wasted Lives" and the epic pop celebration "The Irish Keep Gate-Crashing." The latter features gliding orchestration by arranger Van Dyke Parks, who has co-written songs with the group's idol, Brian Wilson. These lush, lively numbers suggest the band hasn't lost its knack for breezy, free-spirited pop. The Thrills are at Axis tonight.
Miami, that sun-bathed city that seems to perpetually promote an aesthetic of cool, has struggled to make a name for itself in the rap world since 2 Live Crew fell off the map more than a decade ago. Pitbull, a brash and edgy 23-year-old Cuban-American who occasionally borrows Eminem's delayed delivery and Midwest drawl, is already a regional star with three successful mix tapes and a handful of club hits that have tapped into the South's penchant for explicit chants and bass-driven, booty-shaking dance tunes. But his chosen topics (partying, not giving a damn, and, ooh, giving up a life of crime) do not exactly make for groundbreaking material. From his spitfire style to his hoarse catcalls, it's clear Pitbull is excited, but he's not always exciting. "Hurry Up and Wait" is a great diss of opponents. And "Culo," which features producer/marketer extraordinaire Lil Jon, is a certified hit for a reason -- it has a great beat. That's what stands out the most on Pitbull's debut. But he doesn't offer a whole lot beyond that. Still, if you're a hip-hop fan who listens exclusively for the next good beat, Pitbull's "M.I.A.M.I." is chock full of them.
ALEX P. KELLOGG