Musical artists offer range of hope with 2003 releases

Shelby Lynne, OutKast are on list worth considering

Music: in concert, CDs

December 25, 2003|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

I lament it often -- the fact that much of what I hear on the radio (especially urban stations) is so homogenous and predictable.

Although some of my friends may disagree, I am not a musical snob. I swear. I can appreciate Beyonce's "Crazy in Love." (The first time I heard it at a party this summer, I was up and on the floor.) My head would automatically nod to the beat of Chingy's "Right Thurr." R. Kelly's "Step in the Name of Love" made me want to learn the moves: Step, step / side to side / round and round / dip it now ...Let me see you do the love slide ... And Kelis' "Milkshake" had to be one of my biggest guilty pleasures this year: My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard / And they're, like, it's better than yours ...

But I got tired, so sick and tired of hearing those songs over and over and over. Good God! If I never hear "Crazy in Love" or anything by Beyonce for the next three years, I'll be quite all right. If I never read another story about 50 Cent and his many bullet wounds, I won't loose any sleep. And if Ashanti figures out that her vocals are utterly forgettable and decides to spend the rest of her career pitching exotic hair oils in infomercials, I won't shed a tear.

There are many folks out here just like me: life-long lovers of music whose taste runs deeper and wider than what's in the Top 10. Unfortunately, such ubiquitous stars as Miss Bootylicious Beyonce and those paint-by-number acts from that overblown karaoke show American Idol, hogged marketing dollars and crucial promotional pushes in 2003. As a result, we missed or overlooked those artists -- some established, some bubbling under -- who waxed great work this year. Some of it was too rich or too unconventional for today's limited play lists. Some CDs still managed to be a little risky, more adventurous than the rest and reached platinum sales in the process.

Here are my picks and some honorable mentions for the best of 2003:

Shelby Lynne

Identity Crisis

I was going through a sudden (and weird) break-up when I first heard this record, and it soothed my bruised heart and ego. But beyond that, the album is solid, perhaps Shelby's most accomplished effort so far. Finally, the Grammy winner decided to snatch the reins and produce herself, which is something I hope she continues. Identity Crisis folds in elements of various styles -- country-pop, rustic blues, acidic rock -- smoothly. And at the center are Shelby's soul-on-the-floor vocals: intense, sorrowful, supreme.

Josh Rouse

1972

This Nebraska singer-songwriter has been under the radar for some time now. His albums are typically moody and dark. But on 1972, named for the year Rouse was born, the sun breaks through, and the melancholia melts. But it drips heavily on such cuts as "Flight Attendant," the story of a repressed gay man. Josh evokes Curtis Mayfield, Al Green and Carole King from time to time on this thoughtful, thoroughly organic set. The album is one of the best adult pop records you probably didn't hear this year.

Terence Trent D'arby

Wildcard!

Where has he been? The soul singer, who topped the pop charts in '88 with the spare, funky "Wishing Well," has been doing his thing in Europe for the past decade. Fed up with the fickle American pop scene, D'arby, who recently changed his name to Sananda Maitreya, found a supportive, loyal base in Italy. Some of Wildcard! was released overseas last year, but a 19-song set made its domestic debut this summer on the independent Compendia label. And it's a winner from start to finish. In the past, Terence could be embarrassingly pretentious, overreaching lyrically and musically. But on Wildcard!, everything gels: the kaleidoscopic music, the complex lyrics and the singer's Sam Cooke-inspired approach. Few artists can blend trip-hop, jazz fusion and Chicago-brassy soul without sounding awkward or self-indulgent. The brotha finally got it right this time.

Cassandra Wilson

Glamoured

I've always adored Cassandra, as many critics do. But her albums tended to be uneven -- promising and interesting at the beginning, unfocused and listless toward the end. Glamoured, however, is a full, marvelous effort, sparkling with a deep-groove interpretation of Luther Ingram's "If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Want to Be Right)" and a moving, spare take on Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away." The album title is a Gaelic word, meaning "to be whisked away." The jazz artist kidnaps and kills you softly with this shimmering set of songs.

OutKast

Speakerboxxx / The Love Below

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