"Power in Numbers"
On its sophomore album (due in stores Tuesday), Jurassic 5 proves that it's the spiritual evolution of not only South-Central hard-core such as N.W.A, but also black power '60s-'70s proto-rappers the Last Poets, vaporizing the inane muck of tired R&B; references like a blast of pure ammonia with their intelligent rap. On "If You Only Knew," built, like the rest of the album, on funk and soul beats even more spare than on their debut "Quality Control," J5 spit a fierce and positive mission arc no one else dare follow: "We're humble, but don't mistake us for some corny ... crew / What we do is try to give you what you ain't used to / Soul music somethin' we can all relate to."
Now and again they slip into old-fashioned street corner cutting, as on "One of Them," a kind of Pharcyde romp about self-involved playboy gangstas preening in front of the mirror to the recurring phrase, "Oh, you're one o' them...."
"Thin Line," featuring vocals by Nelly Furtado, is the closest the album comes to pop, but it never slips into the too-many-notes vocal goo that's destroying the rest of hip-hop. The album's soaring, defining moment is on the self-explanatory "I Am Somebody," a Motown-via-'80s disco celebration of the common man that's bound to be an uplift party anthem.
& THE HEARTBREAKERS
"The Last DJ"
Petty has always seemed to have more in common with Joe Rock Fan than the larger-than-life stars with whom he shares membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's no surprise, then, that the anger, frustration and sadness over the state-of-the-rock-union in this loosely thematic album (due Tuesday) reflect the view of the disheartened classic-rock fan more than that of the jaundiced rock star.
The album works on a number of levels, but the ambition behind the songs and the off-the-cuff production doesn't slap you in the face. On the surface, several numbers are straight-out poison-pen letters to the commercial forces that compromise the art--and the fun--of rock 'n' roll.
It's hardly a revolutionary idea; the Kinks devoted much of their 1970 album, "Lola Versus Powerman and the Money-Go-Round, Pt. 1," to the dispiriting machinations of the music business, and such complaints have surfaced regularly ever since.
But Petty brings a disarming, regular-guy passion to his treatise, invoking many of his '60s and '70s rock heroes along the way: John Lennon circa "Imagine" (the wistful "Like a Diamond" ), "Sticky Fingers"-era Stones (the moody "Blue Sunday"), the Kinks (the jaunty "The Man Who Loves Women"), Pink Floyd (the expansive "When a Kid Goes Bad") and Bob Dylan (the benedictory "Have Love Will Travel").
It makes for a heartfelt pastiche that feels like Petty's answer to such recent rock-rooted movies as "High Fidelity" and "Almost Famous." It even has a happy ending, closing with the resounding "Can't Stop the Sun." Petty and the Heartbreakers launch a U.S. tour with shows being televised live to theaters on Oct. 15 and 16 from the Grand Olympic Auditorium.
There's something about the innocence and purity of traditional music that can make it feel especially cleansing--as the response to the Buena Vista Social Club and the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" album have underscored in recent years. In this collection of songs from her childhood in Ireland (in stores Tuesday), O'Connor achieves some of the same pristine beauty of those mini-sensations.
In gingerly updating the traditional sound, O'Connor is joined on the album by several of Ireland's most respected contemporary folk musicians, including the Waterboys' Steve Wickham on fiddle and Kieran Kiely on whistle. Mostly, though, it's O'Connor's voice--as lovely and soulful as ever--that stands out, with an authority and viewpoint that can make you lose track of everything else on the album.
O'Connor put aside her own songwriting once before, in the 1992 collection of pop standards "Am I Not Your Girl," but these 13 songs (all but two in English) feel more focused and heartfelt.
Given the singer's history of outspokenness, it's not surprising that some of the songs deal with politics, from the antiwar sentiments of "Paddy's Lament" to the social-class examination of "Molly Malone." But the best of her vocals and arrangements convey a humanity and warmth that transcend genres or labels.
** 1/2 Xzibit, "Man Vs Machine," Loud/Columbia. Xzibit's Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre affiliations garnered the once-lauded underground rapper heaps of mainstream attention in 1999 and 2000. With his fourth album, the Los Angeles-based wordsmith continues his metamorphosis from underground rhymer to mainstream gangster rapper. His hard-core wordplay isn't as clever as it once was, but his menace quotient has increased exponentially. The brutal beats from Dre and others add muscle, but Xzibit tries too hard to convince you of his legitimacy.
*** The Black Heart Procession, "Amore del Tropico," Touch and Go. Playful dread from San Diego's alchemists of dark, baroque pop, locating the sound of Leonard Cohen hosting an Addams Family marathon. The 56 minutes of early-morning ambience, Old World eccentricity and occasional tropicalia in "Amore" (due Tuesday) offer real drama, not melodrama, in mostly acoustic grooves. There's a western swagger (and a fine saw solo) in "Why I Stay" and a touch of romance within the cryptic waltzing piano of "The Invitation." Taunting, haunting, creepy, kooky. The group plays Saturday at the Knitting Factory Hollywood.
*** 1/2 Mr. Airplane Man, "Moanin'," Sympathy for the Record Industry. It's easy to understand why Morphine frontman Mark Sandman stopped to listen when he heard them on a Boston sidewalk in 1998. The two young women were playing white-hot, punk-inflected, juke-joint blues as if they meant it, and they were doing it with nothing but a guitar and drums, wrenching every bit of soul and sound from their instru- ments. Staying that course on its second record, Mr. Airplane Man shows that it deserves a top spot on the list of current rock revivalists.
*** Yumuri, "Tiene Bilongo," Ahi-Nama. The career of this Cuban singer-songwriter dates back two decades to his stint with the seminal Afro-Cuban band of Elio Reve. This is the first album released domestically by this excellent but overlooked sonero, born Moises Valle and brother of better-known bandleader Orlando "Maraca" Valle. The 11 well-chosen songs offer solid, unpretentious salsa by Yumuri's accomplished band, enriched by a tasty horn section, charanga-style strings and guest solos by Maraca on flute and Pancho Amat on tres. Couched in the cool grooves and intriguing textures are Yumuri's warm and expert vocals.
*** Porcupine Tree, "In Absentia," Lava/Atlantic. The British quartet's seventh album (due Tuesday) is a prog-rock lover's delight, replacing the much maligned genre's occasional clunkiness with tight, post-grunge riffs ("Blackest Eyes") and tasty choruses you can actually hum ("The Sound of Muzak"). As much as the ethereal "Lips of Ashes" re-creates the autumnal vibe of Genesis circa 1976, Porcupine Tree avoids getting stuck in the past by incorporating hints of electronica in its lean, emotional sound.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.