THE SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK (Winter & Winter import)
Tin Pan Alley represented, not re-created—with hyped tempos, with maestro Uri Caine arranging like a time-traveling Kurt Weill, with homage to James Reese Europe's boys rather than the white studio stiffs who backed Nora Bayes on the original "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?" and Bert Williams on the original "Nobody," with multiethnic buddies making passes and kidding around. Compensating for well-meaning missteps like Barbara Walker's 11-minute soulification of "Some of These Days" are well-deployed sound effects and singers who achieve intonation in the vernacular—sprightly contralto Nancy Opel, talky baritone Stuart Zagnit. And while favorites inevitably get missed—I nominate "Bully of the Town"—the material proves there is such a thing as the test of time. A MINUS

TARAF DE HAÏDOUKS Band of Gypsies (Nonesuch)
I don't know whether they're the world's only great Gypsy band (funny title, no?) or just get great production advice. Their U.S. debut cherry-picked three Belgian albums; this one cherry-picks three Bucharest concerts featuring previously unrecorded material and guest virtuosos from Bulgaria, Turkey, and Macedonia. Faster than a speeding stallion, deeper than the well they'll throw your mother down, these leathery oldsters and manly upstarts alternate testosterone-packed displays of time-tested tunes and time-testing rhythms. If you liked the first one, this is just as good and different enough. If you're exploring, buy whichever's cheaper. A MINUS

Pick Hits

DE LA SOUL AOI: Bionix (Tommy Boy)
Sampling Tavares, Wings, Dr. Buzzard, Laura Nyro, and the Fat Boys—but just barely, more as a sign of what they've been playing than of how they want to sound—they flow as smooth as the '70s grooves they once left back in the old school. Philosophically woman-friendly and musically woman-dependent, they segue effortlessly into Slick Rick sex ed and the orgasmic mock-mock-melodrama of "Pawn Star"; their gospel chorale is no less on concept than their Reverend Do Good takeoffs. Anyone who ever wondered what hip hop might sound like when it grew up now has an answer. It sounds like a good marriage in a black 'burb, complete with doubts, weed, and a principled refusal to ignore the existence of Somalia. A

BUCK 65 Man Overboard (Anticon)
Richard Terfry from Mount Uniacke is pushing 30 now, a Derek Jeter wannabe turned Halifax hip hop godfather who did business as Stinkin' Rich before settling into this professional identity. Connoisseurs prefer 1999's Vertex, whence sprang the legendary "The Centaur" ("Sure it's larger than yours I'ma centaur for Christ's sakes," which, by the way, rhymes with "rice cakes"). But that one he cut in 48 sleepless hours; this one he pieced together gradually, and the reflection shows. Terfry doesn't believe in titles or track listings, the better to foil Morpheus and induce the listener to perceive his albums as DJed wholes, and this time he gets most of the way there. He's not deeply funky—more trip hop in spirit, even poetry-with-jazz. But the poems pack narrative logic and jokes galore whether they're justifying the album title, mourning his mom, positing a caper that requires divining rods and rosin bags, or assuming the voice of a guy older than Bob Dylan himself. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

RZA AS BOBBY DIGITAL Digital Bullet (Koch)
Rumors of RZA's musical decline are the kneejerks of spastics. Ghost Dog got him past Bernard Herrmann, and he's produced more Wu albums in the last year and a half than in the previous eight. But as a rapper he's no less a gangsta-in-his-own-mind than Dre or Puffy. To his credit, he seems aware of this. "Bobby Digital" is truly a "character," based on the Robert Diggs who fucks bitches and loves bling, and his reggae peacemongering, female-principle antimaterial-ism, and revolutionary rhetoric—that is, the last three tracks on his record—aren't as pro forma as most shows of redeeming social importance. Nevertheless, listening to Bobby plod through his own boasts and brutalisms could make you believe Jay-Z is a good person. Is this the bullet Ghostface's wallet is proof against? Let's hope so. B MINUS

Additional Consumer News

Wu-Tang Clan
, Iron Flag (Loud): great-not-grand beats, worried raps about the ultimate value of the Wu and all its holdings ("Iron Flag," "Dashing [Reasons]"); Coolio, Fantastic Voyage: The Greatest Hits (Tommy Boy): a much safer, rather shallower, somewhat catchier hook collection than Gangsta's Paradise ("County Line," "Aw Here It Goes [Theme From Kenan & Kel]"); Aaliyah (Blackground): a slave to her beats, but a proud slave ("We Need a Resolution," "U Got Nerve"); Clinic, Internal Wrangler (Domino): fun with indie-rock, good—only their idea of fun is so inarticulate ("T.K.," "C.Q."); the Dismemberment Plan, Change (DeSoto): giving their displacements a flow ("Come Home," "Ellen & Ben"); Busta Rhymes, The Best of Busta Rhymes (Elektra/Rhino): everything you need know of a first-rate rapper and his second-rate crew, cameos unfortunately excepted ("Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check," "Everything Remains Raw"); Mystikal, Tarantula (Jive): his beats are supernatural, but he rips pussy linings, which whatever his physical deformities just isn't very nice ("Bouncin' Back [Bumpin' Me Against the Wall]," "Big Truck Driver"); Radioinactive, Pyramidi (Mush Music): multi-user shared hallucinations of an alt-rap record geek ("Pyramidi," "Clam Chowder Day"); the Avalanches, Since I Left You (Sire/Modular): using bits and pieces of dumb crap, which is ecological, to make smart crap, which is less so ("Frontier Psychiatrist," "Close to You"); Petey Pablo, Diary of a Sinner: 1st Entry (Jive): Timbaland sets him off, the 919 keeps him going ("Raise Up," "Petey Pablo," "I"); Mabulu, Soul Marrabenta (Riverboat import): in other words, Mozambique-beat for export ("Hlamalani," "Bula Bula"); Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, B.R.M.C. (Virgin): actually, they seem to enjoy life more than Jesus and Mary Chain—not that that's so hard ("Red Eyes and Tears," "Spread Your Love"); Azeem, Craft Classic (Stray): how we all like our conscious—with a sense of humor ("Imma RMX," "No Lexus"); System of a Down, Toxicity (American): overarrangements no prob for we who avoid art-rock like the plague this means to cure ("Prison Song," "Bounce"); the Bullys, Tonite We Fight Again (Headlock): the punk joke fully grasped, at least by the jokers ("Watch What You Say," "I Wanna Be Famous"); the Dictators, D.F.F.D. (Dictators Multi/Media): "My generation is not the salvation/Who will save rock and roll?" ("I Am Right!" "Pussy and Money").

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