Surprises from a disorganized pile of CDs

Music Notes

Music: in concert, CDs

July 22, 2004|By Rashod D. Ollison

I really need to do something about my "music zone," the area in my apartment where a dining table is supposed to sit. It is in this space near the patio window where my CDs are shelved and stacked. There's no order to the madness, no kind of organization whatsoever. But there's an upside to the mess. As I search for grooves, I feel like I'm discovering and re-discovering music every night. Here are some of the albums -- new and reissued -- that are in the changer now.

* The Roots, The Tipping Point: I'm always looking forward to the next Roots joint. Named after the Malcolm Gladwell book, The Tipping Point is the hip-hop band's follow-up to the ambitious Phrenology. Not as adventurous or as cohesive as its predecessor, Tipping Point is still miles ahead of the mundane, one-stroke rap records flooding the market now. Black Thought's golden lyrical dexterity is on full display here. He shines on "Star," which references Sly Stone's "Everybody is a Star," and the old-school-flavored "Web."

* Syreeta, Syreeta / Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta: Another gorgeous soprano was needed for that wondrous choir in the sky. Minnie Riperton and Aaliyah, Syreeta, who died at 58 earlier this month after a long bout with cancer, is undoubtedly making beautiful music on The Other Side. Perhaps best known for "With You I'm Born Again," her 1980 hit duet with Billy Preston, Syreeta married Stevie Wonder in the early '70s. The union lasted about two years, but the artists remained close friends. Wonder, who co-wrote "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" and "If You Really Love Me" with his first and only wife, produced the singer's first two Motown albums -- Syreeta (1972) and Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta (1974). A few months back, Universal Records reissued both gems on one CD with brilliantly remastered sound and informative liner notes. The albums, though slightly dated in some spots, showcase how daring and experimental Wonder's early production style was. But Syreeta's delicate vocals are never overshadowed -- breezing through the rapturous "Keep Him Like He Is" the sweeping "What Love Has Joined Together." Also check out the fun, reggae-tinted "Your Kiss is Sweet."

* Rachel Yamagata, Happenstance: A deeply textured pop set. I've been spinnin' this for about two weeks now. The Virginia native projects a smoky, emotive style that finely suits the richly adorned production. "Letter Read" rocks with a funky backbeat and nice piano by Rachel. "1963" is another soulful highlight. Strong album throughout that feels genuine.

* Louque, So Long: I missed his appearance at Artscape this year. And I wish I had caught it, because So Long is such a promising debut: bottom-heavy, mid-tempo grooves buoyed by infectious melodies. Though Louque (pronounced Luke) isn't the most distinctive vocalist around, he uses his languid, grainy style well on the record. There are some impressive tracks here, despite a few listless moments. My favorite is "Whoa Now," which rides a lilting rhythm and a clever, effective piano sample from Aretha Franklin's 1971 rendition of "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

* Betty Davis, Betty Davis: You probably know nothing about this artist, who, in 1968, married the illustrious Miles Davis. (The jazz icon was more than twice her age; Betty was a 23-year-old model at the time.) If you like your rock with a healthy dose of stankonia, then you must cop this disc. It's the singer-songwriter's self-titled debut, an unheralded classic, that came out in '73 with zilch support from radio. Since then, the record, still too much for most formats today, has become a cult favorite, showing no sign of age. As Betty snarls and screams on such nasty-gal cuts as "If I'm in Luck I Might Get Picked Up" and "Anti Love Song," she makes Janis Joplin and Tina Turner look like demure Catholic school girls.

* Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose: Hands down, the best country album to come out this year. On paper, pairing Jack White of the White Stripes with the country legend looks like a crazy idea. But Jack, a longtime Loretta fan, provides open, sympathetic arrangements that radiate a comfortable, vintage feel without coming off as forced or nostalgic. Plus, Loretta, 70, is in great voice throughout. Lyrically -- she wrote all 13 songs -- the artist is wickedly humorous, tender and reflective. A jewel of a record.

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