Hit It, Now Hold It

Bearing down on hip hop, with plenty left undone, some of it fairly terrific, I believe or hope. FYI, I'm holding the Tribe Called Quest best-of over till Christmas, which is pretty much what it feels like to me.

Cape Verde
(Putumayo World Music)
Trust the escape merchants at the world's softest world label to put a happy face on saudade-the tempos a little quicker, the melodies a little brighter. Still, it's not like these musicians are trying to get the party started, increase efficiency in the workplace, or reduce sales resistance to clothing bought cheap and sold dear-not that they know of, anyway. They're just confronting the sense of loneliness and loss built into "the romance of these remote and exotic islands." And maybe because they're beginning to feel it's too easy to hold their cultural heritage at bay by correctly pronouncing one of its many names, they're beating it, honestly if temporarily. Good for them. A Minus

Marshall Crenshaw
Number 447
(Razor & Tie)

Although Crenshaw likes to call his g-b-d trio rockabilly, he's not above keybs, gives a fiddler one, and weaves in three instrumentals that are anything but filler-mood-setting rock and roll lounge music, melodic and contemplative. On an album that negotiates the awkward transition from superannuated teen to balding homebody, the two well-crafted infidelity songs don't altogether mesh with the two well-crafted should-have-loved-you-better songs. The masterstroke is "Glad Goodbye," which passes for the world's millionth breakup song while addressing a much rarer theme: a couple, both of 'em, dumping a home and a physical history they no longer love. A Minus

Dream Warriors
Anthology: A Decade of Hits 1988–1998

Eight years ago, these black Canadians put out a well-liked album that missed the tail end of Daisy Age.Then they vanished. Gang Starr and DigablePlanets connections got their next CD a token U.S. release, but the one after was strictly commonwealth-as far as the south-of-the-border rap community was concerned, King Lu and Capital Q no longer existed. So maybe nobody told them that you claim street no matter how middle-class you are, that jazz samples were a doomed fad, that Digable Planets blinked out faster than the evening star. And maybe that was good. Probably it didn't feel like that to them; one of their best songs is called "I've Lost My Ignorance," and I'm sure the disillusion hurt. But though their inspiration wanes slightly, they never surrender their thoughtful intricacy or race-man lyricism. Certainly they belong in the same sentence as De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. And "Test of Purity" is the best song about nasty sex a nasty music has ever produced-in part because it's so explicit, in part because it's so imaginative, in part because it's so kind. A Minus

Cesaria Evora
Café Atlantico
(Lusafrica/RCA Victor/BMG Classics)

I'm happy to report that Shoeless Cesaria reports herself happy. She likes being a star, and is proud to have spread the fame of her native land-now officially redesignated, in the soupiest thing here, an "Atlantic Paradise." To celebrate, she sells out big time, and does it ever suit her-her Brazilian concertmaster's swirling strings ruin only one of five tracks, and the kora, bolero, and danzon are all to the good. Meanwhile, over on the arty side, two previously unrecordeds from her twenties are bright standouts, and the lyric booklet is full of surprises. Never got her and wondered if you were worse for it? Why not start here? A Minus

Genaside II
Ad Finite
(Durban Poison)

Filtering Gil Scott-Heron through Linton Kwesi Johnson and Bernard Herrmann through Richard Wagner, guesting an imprisoned dancehall boomer on one track and a certified operatic contralto on the next, this Prodigy/Chems/Tricky–beloved brand name has more scope and punch than most trip hop, or whatever it is. And it holds together like-well, not Wagner probably, but at least Shadow. Unaccustomed as I am to thrilling to fake strings, I thrill to these. And not just because I've been boomed into submission, I don't think. A Minus

Arto Lindsay
(Righteous Babe)

Although he'll never make as much money at it as the samba masters he takes after, Lindsay's jeud'esprit has turned modus operandi. He seems fully capable of an album like this every year or two: a dozen or so songpoems in English or Portuguese, floating by on the sinuous current and spring-fed babble of a Brazilian groove bent, folded, spindled, and mutilated by the latest avant-dance fads and electronic developments. The weak link is the poetry, which wouldn't be as fun as the music even if it was as well-realized. The selling point is the fads and developments, and the faux-modest singing that renders them so organic. A Minus

Paul McCartney
Run Devil Run

I don't want to call McCartney the most complacent rock and roller in history. The competition's way too stiff, especially up around his age, and anyway, I'm not judging his inner life, only his musical surface. From womp-bom-a-loo-mom to monkberry moon delight, his rockin' soul and pop lyricism always evinced facility, not feeling, and his love songs were, as he so eloquently put it, silly. This piece of starting-over escapism isn't like that at all, as, robbed of the wife he loved with all his heart, McCartney returns to the great joy of his adolescence in a literally death-defying formal inversion. So light it's almost airborne, Gene Vincent's "Blue Jean Baby" opens; so wild it's almost feral, Elvis Presley's "Party" closes. Some familiar titles are merely redone or recast, which beyond some Chuck Berry zydeco gets him nowhere. But arcana like Fats Domino's "Coquette" and Carl Perkins's "Movie Magg" could have been born yesterday, three originals dole out tastes of strange, and on two successive slow sad ones, the Vipers' hung-up obscurity "No Other Baby' and Ricky Nelson's lachrymose hit "Lonesome Town," the impossibility of the project becomes the point. Teenagers know in some recess of their self-involvement that their angst will have a next chapter, but McCartney's loneliness is permanent. Not incurable-the music is a kind of new life. But its fun is a spiritual achievement McCartney's never before approached. A Minus

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