Minstrels All

Little Niche (Lumperboy)
Seven songs and four stories, and without question the stories have more bite. If topics like crying when your son leaves for college and coping with your father's prostate cancer seem mawkish by definition, God help "Marlene," home from the hospice and dancing with her son in the backyard, or "A Little More Love," White's prescription for everything this side of prostate cancer. I mean, "Like a Friend" makes me gag, and I'm a fan. On the other hand, the belief that stories about crying when your son leaves for college are mawkish by definition is a social disease. Those ready to combat it should avail themselves of White's humorous-to-hilarious, insightful-to-incisive antidote—cracked tunes, acoustic strum, and all. B PLUS

Pick Hits

"Love and Theft" (Columbia)
Before minstrelsy scholar Eric Lott gets too excited about having his title stolen—"He loves me! Honey, Bob Dylan loves me!"—he should recall that Dylan called his first cover album Self-Portrait. Dylan meant that title, of course, and he means this one too, which doesn't make "Love and Theft" his minstrelsy album any more than Self-Portrait's dire "Minstrel Boy" was his minstrelsy song. All pop music is love and theft, and in 40 years of records whose sources have inspired volumes of scholastic exegesis, Dylan has never embraced that truth so warmly. Jokes, riddles, aperçus, and revelations will surface for years, but let those who chart their lives by Dylan's cockeyed parables tease out the details. I always go for tone, spirit, music. If Time Out of Mind was his death album—it wasn't, but you know how people talk—this is his immortality album. It describes an eternal circle on masterful blazz and jop readymades that render his grizzled growl as juicy as Justin Timberlake's tenor—Tony Bennett's, even. It's profound, too, by which I mean very funny. "I'm sitting on my watch so I can be on time," he wheezes, because time he's got plenty of. A PLUS

White Blood Cells
(Sympathy for the Record Industry)
I'm down with the story that rather than brother and sister they're a divorced couple like Quasi. It suggests that Jack White got the blues someplace else besides the blues and grounds his deprived love songs, which are more grounded than Quasi's anyway. This third album is where he takes both love songs and the blues down the road a piece. "The Union Forever" is about marrying for life and also about serving the poor, "Little Room" is about making sex last and also about making indie-rock last, and neither is any richer than "Hotel Yorba," which is about plighting your troth with the one you love most. "If I could hear your pretty voice I don't think I'd need to sing at all," he sings. But all she'll promise is to play the drums. A

Dud of the Month

All for You (Virgin)
Fifth time through or so, having vaguely enjoyed the title tune's thirdhand chic and patted my figurative foot to two other early songs and conceived something a little more fattening when she invited/implored me (me—we hardly know each other, but hey) to "taste" her, I got to the Carly Simon duet again, and finally it hit me. This wasn't just weird, it was revolting. Once Janet was a repressed young thing discovering her sexuality, and that was fun for everybody; now she's a rich 35-year-old demanding sex, and even if her body wisdom is manifestly subtler than Carly's, the thrill is gone. And then there's the fabled production team that has achieved precisely nothing on its own since she turned into something slinkier and more carnivorous than a cash cow—a cash mink, say. B MINUS

Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION: Unitas, Porch Life (No Idea): "This THEY you're screaming about, please elaborate," "punk/indie/whatever" designated drivers demand ("Porch Life," "Ballad of the Designated Driver"); Hamell on Trial, Ed's Not Dead—Hamell Comes Alive! (Such-A-Punch): de facto best-of cum fine how-de-doo to you and several hordes of Ani DiFranco fans ("Sugarfree," "7 Seas"); Missy Elliott, Miss E . . . So Addictive (The Goldmind, Inc./Elektra): a little too worried about her weight ("Lick Shots," "Get Ur Freak On"); Chris Knight, A Pretty Good Guy (Dualtone): good old dirtbags raise hell as they go there ("A Pretty Good Guy," "If I Were You"); Charlie Watts Jim Keltner Project (CyberOctave): the multiculti drum trip of Mickey Hart's interviews, with a secret ingredient—jazz ("Art Blakey," "Elvin Suite"); Moulin Rouge (Twentieth-Century Fox Film Corp./Interscope): the direct link between Toulouse-Lautrec and Phil Collins, and right—seeing the movie helps (Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, and Jamie Allen, "Elephant Love Medley"; Ewan McGregor and Alexandra Safina, "Your Song"); Maxwell, Now (Columbia): he can't outbeat D'Angelo, so he works on outsinging and outsonging him ("Temporary Night," "This Woman's Work," "Lifetime"); Mary J. Blige, No More Drama (MCA): positive attitude's a bitch, not to mention a drag ("PMS," "Steal Away"); LFO, Life is Good (J): just normal stars, like Jackie, Diane, and the Great Houdini ("28 Days," "6 Minutes"); The Fast and the Furious (Murder Inc.): hip hop on acceleration fuel (Ja Rule, "Furious"; Funkmaster Flex, "Tudunn Tudunn Tudunn [Make You Jump]"); Lil' Romeo (SME/Priority) gangsta pop at its funniest, sickest, and safest ("My Baby," "Where They At"); the Yayhoos, Fear Not the Obvious (Bloodshot): Eric Ambel as Ron Wood OK, but would you believe Dan Baird as Rod Stewart, and if not why not? ("What Are We Waiting For," "Dancing Queen"); K.T. Oslin, Live Close By, Visit Often (BNA): senior moments of an aginger sex bomb ("I Can't Remember Not Loving You," "Neva Sawyer"); BBMak, Sooner or Later (Hollywood): Brit boychiks go pseudo-American, not sussing how old jeans and guitars have gotten in mall-land—which is a relief ("Unpredictable," "Ghost of You and Me"); the Apples in Stereo, Let's Go! (SpinArt): best of the Powerpuff Girls plus collectibles ("Heroes and Villains," "Signal in the Sky [produced version]"); *NSync, Celebrity (Jive): they survive "writing their own songs," and they positively enjoy their bells and whistles ("Selfish," "Do Your Thing"); Foxy Brown, Broken Silence (Def Jam): regrets, she's got a few ("Na Na Be Like," "Candy"); Res, How I Do (MCA): something to suck on while you dream of Lauryn ("Golden Boys," "Ice King"); Cursive, Burst and Bloom (Saddle Creek): with a bang, a whimper, a yowl, and a hook you can take with you ("The Great Decay," "Sink to the Beat").

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