Dusting off some classics to keep in the CD player

Music Notes

Music: in concert, CDs

April 08, 2004|By Rashod D. Ollison

When my five-disc Panasonic stereo died last summer, I felt as if I had lost a cool cousin. That silver box had been with me since my sophomore year of college; it almost got me thrown out of my dorm room with its full sound. When I graduated, moved to Philly and had yet to make any new friends, I'd spend my evenings sprawled out on the living room floor as the stereo shuffled my favorite CDs. Oh, how I loved Pani.

The evening she passed away was probably the only time my apartment has ever been music-less. I didn't grieve long, though. The next morning, I disconnected old Pani, put her in the hall closet (I still haven't mustered the courage to haul her to the Dumpster) and high-tailed it to the Circuit City down the street. There, I met and fell instantly in love with Miss Sony, who holds 60 CDs and whose speakers make old Pani sound like a cheap transistor radio.

With a much bigger changer, I don't have to switch CDs all the time. And since welcoming Miss Sony into my life, there are a few discs (some recent, some classic) that have taken up permanent residence inside her boxy middle. Ranging from baroque, operatic pop to Louisiana-hot-sauce-spicy funk, the following albums sound better as the years, or in some cases, the months have passed.

Van Hunt, self-titled (2004): I'd like to know why Capitol Records hasn't gotten behind this dynamic debut by one of the most exciting, gifted singer-songwriter-musicians around. Van was featured in my column a month or so ago. But I wish I had had more time to absorb his album before I wrote the piece. I loved the CD immediately, but I think I may have misinterpreted the nuances. I said that "acidic rock" bubbled in the mix. Well, "acidic" was the wrong word. Van's music -- even the songs with a more pronounced rock feel -- is smooth, groove-rich and thick. Full of attitude. Prince and Sly Stone influences abound. Not one song on the album is a waste of time. Perhaps 25 years from now, long after this record is out of print, young soul aficionados will rediscover Van Hunt, saying, "Good God! Why was he ignored?"

Rufus Wainwright, Want One (2003): I talked to Rufus around the time he put this record out last fall. I dug it, but I didn't go crazy for it the way some critics did. But for some reason, I haven't pulled it out of my changer yet. It's probably because the record is so sonically rich and opulent. Rufus' slightly droning croon may be an acquired taste for some. (It certainly was for me.) But this record works without seeming too precious. "Oh What a World," the opening cut, is a highlight.

OutKast, Aquemini (1998): Pop folks celebrated Speakerboxxx / The Love Below , the Atlanta duo's multi-platinum two-disc set that won the Album of the Year Grammy in February. And I was one of many critics who fawned all over it. The album is masterful and ambitious (especially Andre 3000's half) but also flawed in some spots and exhausting as a whole. Still, the collection bests much of what we heard last year. But the real OutKast masterpiece is 1998's Aquemini. The album featured the genre-busting (and controversial) "Rosa Parks" single. (As you know, the civil rights legend sued the group for using her name.) Aque-mini flows from track to track, fusing organic soul and progressive rap with touches of electro-funk, dub and rock. Whenever I feel myself coming down with those weary-black-man blues, I hit track 15: the defiant, affirming "Liberation."

The Roots, Phrenology (2002): Hey, if you haven't heard, the Roots are one of the best things to ever happen to hip-hop. The group is one of the reasons I'm still interested in the genre. (OutKast is the other.) Phrenology, which spawned a minor hit with "Break You Off" featuring Musiq, is the band's most ambitious set to date, following the gold-certified breakthrough, 1999's Things Fall Apart. At times hypnotic, other times sonically challenging, Phrenology is an underappreciated slab of intelligent rap that will shine long after the Chingys and 50 Cents have been spent.

Roy Ayers, Virgin Ubiquity: Unreleased Recordings 1976-1981 (2003): Roy was the first established act I ever interviewed. I've been a fan since childhood, so chatting with the father of jazz-funk was humbling. He's a sharp cat -- warm, highly intelligent, down-to-earth and open. His music reflects all of those things. Virgin Ubiquity is a compilation of gems Roy laid down during his classic period at Polydor Records (from '72 to '82). For some reason such bangin', luminous tracks as "Boogie Down," "What's the T," "Sugar" and "Mystery of Love" were left in a closet for a quarter-century before seeing the laser light of CD. All 13 selections either match or exceed the quality of the material Roy put out back in the day. That's a lot of groovin'. The bandleader and multi-instrumentalist released 20 albums in 10 years while at Polydor.

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