Here's what's in the CD changer at home

Music Notes

Music : in concert, CDs

December 09, 2004|By Rashod D. Ollison

ON A REGULAR basis, I get e-mails from readers wanting to know what I'm diggin' on at home, what CDs I have in the changer. And friends call me all the time asking, "Hey, Rashod, I need some good music. What should I buy?"

As you can imagine, I always have music playing -- at home of course, in the car, in my Discman as I leave my car and head into the office in the mornings. (I know, I know. One of these days, I'll break down and get an iPod. Maybe I'll get one for Christmas.) Just as there's usually something tasty on the stove in my kitchen, there's good stuff on my stereo in the living room. Here are a few albums -- old and new -- that I've been checking out lately.

U2, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb: Anything the celebrated Irish band puts out seems to snatch everybody's attention. But unlike Pop, that pretentious, almost unforgivable mess from 1997, the new album is more focused, a return to the basic, sweeping sound of such early records as War and October. (To be fair, the guys got their act together on 2000's solid All That You Can't Leave Behind.) To steer the direction of Atomic Bomb, the quartet wisely brought in Steve Lillywhite, U2's original producer. And the overall result isn't bad at all -- a little too safe at times, but energetic and riveting for the most part. You may miss the emotional resonance of All That You Can't Leave Behind and the immediacy of, say, The Joshua Tree, but this stripped, accessible new record shouldn't be dismissed. "Love and Peace or Else" is one of several highlights.

The Pointer Sisters, That's a Plenty (1974), Live at the Opera House (1974), Steppin' (1975), Having a Party (1977): The cool folks at Hip-O Select / Universal Records have just reissued these four early Pointer Sisters albums, available exclusively at www.hip-ose lect.com. The CDs, which resemble the labels on the old records, are packaged in minireplicas of the original LPs -- gatefolds and all.

If you're only familiar with the Oakland group's kinetic pop smashes of the 1980s ("I'm So Excited," "Automatic," "The Neutron Dance," etc.), then you really don't know the Pointer Sisters at their best. They started out as a dynamic quartet before sista Bonnie left the fold in '78 to pursue what turned out to be a very modest solo career. She scored just two hits: the disco classics "Heaven Must Have Sent You" and "Free Me From My Freedom / Tie Me to a Tree (Handcuff Me)." Besides Labelle, the Pointers were the most eye-catching, musically adventurous girl group of the '70s. Decked out in '40s-inspired gear replete with flamboyant hats and chunky jewelry, Ruth, Anita, Bonnie and June breezed soulfully through campy show tunes, Delta blues, twangy country, earthy funk and vocalese jazz. All of these styles usually sat side by side on one album. (That's a Plenty, the gold-selling follow-up to the group's 1973 self-titled debut, is dizzying in its eclecticism.)

There hasn't been a girl group since that has matched the energy and sheer brilliance the Grammy-winning siblings displayed on the early albums. Steppin', a personal favorite, features the 1975 No. 1 R&B hit, "How Long (Betcha' Got a Chick on the Side)." A blistering, seven-minute blues-funk monster, the song bangs as hard today as I'm sure it did the summer it was all over the radio.

Fantasia, Free Yourself: I was impressed by this 19-year-old, church-raised Southern gal on last season's American Idol. Although I detest the show, I watched it faithfully after my homegirl Tiff hipped me to Fantasia. When she won, I was elated. "America finally knows what's up," I told Tiff.

But Fantasia's slick debut isn't as electric as her live performances on the megapopular show. It is definitely the best in the recent batch of post-American Idol albums. But for some reason, Fantasia's vocals sound thinner on the CD. She's got the diva-ready histrionics and gospel affectations down to a science, but about midway through the album, you realize that her voice isn't very rich or nuanced. And her timbre grates the nerves after a while. However, when the production is organic and sympathetic -- like on the Missy Elliott-produced title track -- Fantasia shines. The album is uneven, but it's a nice introduction to a vocalist with a lot of potential.

Wu-Tang Clan, Legend of the Wu-Tang Clan: Greatest Hits: Since O.D.B. passed a few weeks back, I've been revisiting the classics by one of the most hard-hitting hip-hop groups of the '90s. I wasn't really into the Wu-Tang Clan back in the day. The unit was a little too East Coast for this country boy. But the Clan's material has held up well. The layered, surrealistic production and left-field rhymes are as stunning today than they were a decade ago. "Protect Ya Neck" still resonates, and it remains sound advice in these crazy times.

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