Haikus and Atmospheres

For the record, I am not a true believer in "underground" hip hop. If anything (see Black Eyed Peas), I'm a bit of a skeptic. But nowhere near as much a skeptic as hip hoppers of every sect and affiliation. Boy does good stuff surface once you start looking.

Accepted Eclectic (Ground Control)

Popsymp enough to consider this an improvement over the far from awful The Book of Human Language (featuring "The Balance," "The Hurt," "The Vision," etc.), I'm also streetsymp enough to hear how smug some might find the sensible moralizing and carousel hooks of "Master Your High" and people person enough to think "Five Feet," named for the distance he wants to keep between him and you, is priggish. Still, most of these 16 tracks are sensible, moral, and hooky. And many are fun as well. Ten years a cult hero and his passion for rhyme is unabated. It would be priggish to deny him. B PLUS

(Pure Hip Hop, Inc.)

Hooray for who-he? drummer Adrian Burley, mastermind of a Freestyle Fellowship-Project Blowed spinoff that slips horn and keyb cameos into a flow that's steady yet supple, catchy yet varied, live yet studio—a musicality that naturally extends to the rhymeslingers, who offset each other as well as the beats. Aceyalone's smart-ass singsong is more fun lip-by-jowl with Abstract Rude's rough edges; Mikah 9's alcoholic free-association sets up the star's righteous "Man I want money I need food/I want clothes I need housing/I want cars I need good health/I want knowledge of self I got knowledge of self." And it goes on. Worth reading along to, too. A MINUS

From the Desk of Mr. Lady (Mr. Lady)

After a 34-minute art project that ended up a great album, a 17-minute EP ends up an art project. "Get Off the Internet" was overdue and "They want us to make a symphony out of the sound of women swallowing their own tongues" does us the honor of taking its title literally. But don't be so sure either will hold up like "Gone b4 yr home." Male chauvinist boyfriends are eternal. B PLUS

Tropical Brainstorm (Instinct)

Ewan's pride was always a folkie in her bones, a singer whose acute arrangements were dulled by prefunk grooves. That's why the sauciest songs on her Galore best-of sound a little fusty, and also why this Latin-inspired and -flavored return to the studio seemed like nothing to get worked up about. (Remember Rei Momo? By David Byrne? Right.) Making no claims for the clave of her same old Brit backing guys, she soars like she never has anyway. She always had attitude, but whether she's stalking a fan gone "to a record store/To buy a CD by some other girl not me" or walking all over some Limey masochist in her most impractical shoes, these songs are so loose and raunchy they live the carnival cliché of life-giving rhythm "Mambo de la Luna" stakes its video on. The saxophone-and-autoharp finale is a return to foggy London town, even though most of the album takes place there, the non-Latin bonus tracks are letdowns, and MacColl's death in the Caribbean last December hurts every time she ai-yi-yis about what a slut she turned out to be. A MINUS

Richland Woman Blues (Stony Plain import)

Too old to waste time bragging, too wise to want any more macho mess, Muldaur finds title, lead, and persona for this Memphis Minnie tribute in a well-loved classic by gentle John Hurt. It beats her '60s cover if not the original, as does the pliant, weathered "Me and My Chauffeur." Sticking to underexposed blues songs and aided by a lifetime's worth of friends—Amos Garrett taking Lead Belly to the Delta, Angela Strehli working a "cooperation plan," Alvin Youngblood Hart as Minnie's good old Kansas Joe—she turns in the best record of her undiminished lifetime. When was the last time anyone in Marin County wrote a line to match "Gon' bring you some money if I have to pawn my pants"? A MINUS

Sound Time (IndigeDisc)

Politer musically and craftier lyrically than the rival Oriental Brothers, lacking his great hit "Osondi Owendi," shorter on charm if not tune than his live '96 one-off, and you won't care. These seven '70-'85 tracks, none under six minutes and one pushing 20, are as close as any American is liable to come to the rambling shambling genius of a bespectacled little careerist who has made Ibo highlife his fastness for 30 years. No non-Ibo will detect the worlds of homily, satire, and flattery here without consulting a scorecard. We'll just hear the palm-wine sweetness, the edge-of-the-forest chatter, the flow everlasting. A MINUS

(World Music Network import)

"No padding, no 'fillers,' " boast the notes. But "not every great bhangra band or artist is represented," apologizes the dedication. Which leaves the "You don't need to understand the words" part up in the air. Because we do need to understand the groove. And in the absence of sure-shot hooks, understanding comes easier to non-Punjabi speakers in the U.K., the epicenter of the Indian diaspora, where this voracious dance style links Bollywood kitchen-sink to a village thrust that long ago fused with the industrial pulse of the global metropolis. Never previously drawn to more than a stray track or two, I count this meant-to-be-definitive collection thusly: first three hits that pass all understanding, final three so fierce they need only get started, middle seven pretty engaging for a groove and language not one's own. A MINUS

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