cds: Now Hear This 

In fact, she invites some of her celebrity role models to lend a hand on the album. Stevie Nicks sings backup on "Diamond Road," and Don Henley duets on "It's So Easy." The title brings to mind television jingles, but the song is more of a country creation.

Crow's rhythm slows down on some songs like "Weather Channel," with Emmylou Harris, another heavy influence. Nonetheless, the slower songs hauntingly grow on you, just as the rest of the album does. When it comes to someone like Crow, however, you expect instant gratification.

— Deborah Markham

Sea of Souls "Flowers & Landmines" (SOS) ****

You could say Sea of Souls has a lot riding on this recording. In the past year, the Virginia Beach-based quartet has slightly augmented its image and sound to appear more commercially viable in the eyes of bottom-lining major record company executives. And, if you can excuse the pun, they have done so without selling their souls. In fact, "Flowers & Landmines" is their finest output to date.

The first three tracks are undoubtedly hits-in-waiting. "Dumb" has that radio-playable, nu-metal grind with John Adkins' voice spewing attitude and Michael Doyle's guitar screaming like a frog stung by hornets (imagine the sound, then listen to the song). On "Gone," the head-turning hook is found in the chorus where Adkins nails his falsetto notes.

The song that best embodies all the qualities of the band in its present state is "Wasting My Time." The exceptional composition is as oxymoronic as the album title, balancing seemingly opposite vocal styles where bassist Andrew McNeely's psychedelia duels playfully with Adkins' hip-hop-inspired lines. Drummer Bill Adams provides a thunderous backdrop on the bridge.

"Flowers & Landmines" is further proof Sea of Souls is the best unsigned band in the land.

— Jeff Maisey

Angelique Kidjo "Black Ivory Soul" (Columbia) *****

Angelique never disappoints.

One of Africa's most influential artists, the energetic Afropop star with a maverick bent neatly fits into many genres, from salsa to jazz to funk to zouk. But more important, she gets better with time.

Since "Pretty," her debut solo album in 1988, the Benin-born, Paris-raised performer has kept a captive audience with her vocal gift and equally intriguing physical style.

In "Black Ivory Soul," Kidjo adds another challenge to her repertoire: exploring the musical and cultural ties between Brazil and Africa. And she's enlisted some serious players to it: Brazilian percussionist Gilmar Iglesia Gomes, African percussionist Abdou Mboup and drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, of the hip-hop group the Roots.

Producer Bill Laswell, who mixed the live recordings from Benin in his New York studio, created a seamless mesh of the Brazilian/African varieties. Interspersed throughout the 12-track disc are elements of folk, jazz, rock and Benin's traditional "bouniyan" music.

"Iwoya," a feel-good duet with South Africa native Dave Matthews, is a standout, as is the opening track, "Bahia," an ode to Kidjo's provincial homeland, which sets the tone with a ethereal whisper in Yoruba. — Rose Peltier

Diana Ross "The Lady Sings... Jazz and Blues — Stolen Moments" (Motown) ***

Her voice is unmistakable. The songs are timeless.

Diana Ross creates an unforgettable evening of jazz and blues with her intimate, sensual style. That's why this concert album sounds as fresh as the day it was recorded live a decade ago.

In honor of the 10-year anniversary, a remastered CD and accompanying concert DVD have been released. It's also the 30th anniversary of the film "Lady Sings the Blues," for which Ross received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Billie Holiday. The movie was the inspiration for the concert years later.

From uptempo pieces like "Them There Eyes" to soulful songs like "My Man," Ross entertains from beginning to end. Her ability to improvise adds to the album's charm.

Many selections are culled from Holiday classics. She adds her own spin to Holiday's "God Bless the Child," "Love Is Here to Stay," "Strange Fruit" and "Mean to Me."

Her band is also a delight, from the muted trumpet and trombone solos to the soulful sax serenades.

Steal a moment with Diana Ross. It'll be a memorable one. — A.M. Sradomski

The Star Room Boys "This World Just Won't Leave You Alone" (Slewfoot) ****

Could Athens now be the site of a burgeoning alt-country scene? With the release of Georgia's Star Room Boys on the Missouri-based Slewfoot Records, one of the genre's more adventurous labels, that may be a firm yes.

Led by the warm, emotional tenor of vocalist Dave Marr and the shimmering, emotional pedal steel runs of former Two-Dollar Pistol Johnny Neff, "This World" is a masterpiece of sincerity, simplicity and seasoned performance using deceptively simple arrangements.

The disc's main thrust is its slew of tear-jerkers. Marr never whines, but he sure can inhabit a song, making each Sturm und Drang opus sound like a personal crisis. Tunes like "Whiskey and You" and the six-minute "Cocaine Parties," with its dramatic instrumental ebb and flow, drip with heartfelt emotion and world-weariness. But for each drip of tear, there's uptempo numbers like the opening "White Lies, Blue Tears" or the truckin' man's "The Daydreamer" recalling honky-tonk and rockabilly styles, all punctuated by Philip McArdle's twanging Telecaster.

Maybe this recording will help make Athens the center of the genuine country/Americana universe. Something Nashville hasn't been for years. — Eric Feber


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