One Child's destiny: an adept solo fling

Kelly Rowland

"Simply Deep"

***, Columbia

One of the other members of megastar R&B-pop; trio Destiny's Child, Kelly Rowland scores points for truth in advertising with her debut solo bow. This 14-track collection (in stores Tuesday) contains no big insights, but its adept mainstream-pop ruminations on life and love are surprisingly subtle, with an appealing sincerity that never turns maudlin.

Abetted by the usual throng of producers and songwriters, along with guests Nelly and Solange Knowles (yes, Beyonce's younger sister), Rowland doesn't bowl you over with her personality. But her fine voice adapts nicely to different settings. She brings an ardent sadness to the single "Stole," a rock-flavored soul tune about promising young lives snuffed out; and a believable sense of wonder to the gently percussive "(Love Lives in) Strange Places." One of three songs she co-wrote, it reflects on how the right one often comes along quite unexpectedly.

Rowland deals mostly with romantic hopes and disappointments, shifting confidently from whispered urgency ("Obsession") to sighing heartbreak ("Everytime You Walk Out That Door") to breathy come-on ("Make U Wanna Stay"). But she also musters up some attitude for more dance floor-oriented tunes such as "Dilemma," her propulsively boppy smash duet with Nelly that reworks the Patti LaBelle '80s R&B; hit "Love, Need and Want You."

*

Santana lets the guests run party

Santana

"Shaman"

** 1/2, Arista

Let's face it: The tinkly tune from an ice-cream truck would turn sensually soulful if Carlos Santana added his scorching guitar and his band's seductive, pan-Latin rhythms.

So it is in "Shaman" (in stores Tuesday), the follow-up to the group's Grammy-sweeping, 11-million-plus selling "Supernatural," as Santana plays musical shaman by sprucing up several routine pop songs and rescuing some awkward collaborations with his time-tested recipe.

The veteran fret wizard isn't about to tamper with a formula as super-successful as "Supernatural's," which means guest stars galore once again. Macy Gray, Michelle Branch, Dido, Seal, Musiq, Ozomatli, Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, P.O.D. and even Placido Domingo are aboard this time. Few of the pairings yield real magic, though Santana's inextinguishable musicality makes it impossible to dismiss any as wasted efforts.

The gutsy artistic move after "Supernatural" would have been to refocus attention on the man, his guitar and his band -- that's who creates the highlights here, the Afro-Cuban "Adouma," "Foo Foo," "Victory Is Won" and "Aye Aye Aye."

Instead, Santana sounds like a sparkling guest at his own bash, often too busy in the kitchen to step out and assume his rightful role as the life of the party.

--Randy Lewis

*

Foos' latest: Good, could be better

Foo Fighters

"One by One"

***, RCA

"All my life I've been searching for something. ... Nothing satisfies, but I'm getting close," sings Dave Grohl in the rapid-fire opening of "All My Life," the first song on his Foo Fighters' fourth album (due Tuesday). Throughout the album he confronts the frustration of having goals in sight but not quite getting there. And while that sense has always been the emotional foundation for the Foos, Nirvana alumnus Grohl has brought new maturity to the subject.

The song "Tired," in particular, trades in the band's muscular power-punk for a slow-simmering stew of internal conflicts over an unhealthy relationship. It's more subtly shaded than Nirvana's stares into the abyss, if less compelling. And Grohl generally lacks Cobain's essential gallows humor. But it still packs a sting.

The close-but-not-quite frustrations also apply to some of the music. There's an impressive expansion of the Foos' range with the staccato rush of "All My Life," the tortured calm of "Tired" and some nice melodic pop-rock twists in "Times Like These" and "Have It All." But in other places there's a drift toward arena-rock conventions. Grohl has proven before that he can set -- and reach -- higher goals than that.

-- Steve Hochman

*

More hot jams from LL Cool J

LL Cool J

"10"

***, Def Jam

LL Cool J has been a model of consistency in a genre that cannibalizes its elder statesmen, eager to replace them. With his ninth studio album (in stores Tuesday), the Queens hip-hop star again shows he's got enough edge to satisfy hard-core rap fans and the kind of jams to hook the more radio-reliant. The single "Luv U Better" features LL apologizing for his shortcomings and promising to improve his behavior, while "Big Momma (Unconditional Love)" is a moving paean to his grandmother, the parental figure in his life.

Even on his softer selections, LL packs his rhymes with the witty wordplay and imagination that are hallmarks of his work. On "Niggy Nuts" and "Fa Ha," he flexes a harder side, boasting of his rhyming skills on the former while warning about falling in love for the wrong reasons on the latter. "10" is another strong package from one of rap's most important figures.

--Soren Baker

*

Rod sings classics: It had to be him

Rod Stewart

"It Had to Be You"

**, J

At 57, Stewart seems to have reached that career point, familiar to singers, actors, dancers, etc., at which the traditional repertoire doesn't seem quite as foreign as it did in their younger, more exploratory years. The Englishman has flirted with romantic music of one sort or another over the last two decades. But "Downtown Train" and "Have I Told You Lately" are a lot closer to the Stewart roots than the music here -- tunes such as "You Go to My Head," "These Foolish Things" and "The Nearness of You."

The principal problem with this collection (due Tuesday) is that the superficial qualities that have worked so well for Stewart in the past -- his throaty sound, his minimalist interpretations -- aren't up to the demands of music that is filled with arching melodies and subtle lyrics. The way the melody of "The Very Thought of You" was truncated to fit his voice, the continual dependence on the mood-setting powers of the talented accompanying musicians and the predictable similarity of Stewart's renderings all illustrate what happens when manner and ego are confronted by material that demands musical maturity and storytelling insight.

--Don Heckman

*

In brief

The Donnas

"Spend the Night"

***, Atlantic

On their fifth album (in stores Tuesday), the girls are still demanding satisfaction ("Take It Off"), mocking poseurs ("Dirty Denim"), partying like rock stars ("5 O'Clock in the Morning") and occasionally almost caring ("All Messed Up"). Only now the Crue-loving crew's doing it on a major label. Their lean-mean garage-metal-punk withstands the bigger-budget bulking up, but suddenly the Donnas sound quite slick next to much of the rock-is-back-(whatever) class of '02. The group plays the Roxy on Wednesday.

--Natalie Nichols

*

Caravana Cubana

"Del Alma"

***, Dreamer/Warner Latina

If the 1999 debut by this informal ensemble deserved two Grammy nominations (for best traditional tropical album and best package), this follow-up deserves to win at least one. The concept is the same: Top Cuban artists such as pianist Chucho Valdes, flutist Maraca and the singers of Bamboleo are invited to record in L.A. with a multiethnic collection of Latin and jazz players under the direction of producer Alan Geik and musical director Jose Caridad "Perico" Hernandez. But the result this time is several notches superior, as are Perico's earthy vocals. This diverse collection of nine original tunes has luster, depth and a confident sense of identity.

--Agustin Gurza

*

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.

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