T.I. "I'm Serious"; Big Joe and the Dynaflows "All Night Long"; Rah Bras "Ruy Blas" 

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T.I. "I'm Serious" (Arista)

With bass lines you'll be proud to thump with the windows down, T.I. brings the bounce, but is that all that the CD offers?

This Atlanta-based rapper follows the hard-core trail of other Napoleonic rappers with something to prove, a la Too $hort, who drops some cameo rhymes in case you missed the connection.

The hard-core jams seem forced and contrived while lacking originality; however, it does appear that T.I. speaks from experience in Atlanta's ghetto — slinging rock, running with ganstas, and smokin' one blunt after another. But this style isn't T.I.'s greatest strength.

The cuts that truly sparkle reveal a whimsical, cavalier brashness with having fun as the main focus. Here the clever use of samples and hitting beats and bass lines accentuate T.I.'s lyrical style with West Coast flair and charm.

Beenie Man appears on one of the standouts on the CD, the title track, "I'm Serious." To start another noteworthy, innovative track with a Latino vibe, T.I. says, "We're goin' to Cuba wit dis one."

There are 18 tracks and the majority are solid, but the remaining pretentious clunkers seem to detract, pulling the gems down into a quagmire of an era of gangsta rap that is better off forgotten. — Spencer Sadler

Big Joe and the Dynaflows "All Night Long" (Severn)

Big Joe's latest project swings from the opening guitar riff to the last cymbal sizzle. Both smooth and gritty, Joe and his Washington, D.C.-based band slip through a range of old-style classic blues with an honest and soulful groove that's a pure delight. From the second-line rhythms of "Down in Louisiana" to the big-band horns of "Move it or Lose It" to the intimate confession of "The Church of Your Love," Joe sings and drums with his usual straightforward heart and humor. For its part, the band — including guests Kaz Kazanoff and Iguana sax man Derek Huston — plays with an innovative yet respectful restraint that forsakes flash for taste throughout. Most of the set is original material written by Joe, guitarist Ivan Appelrouth or pianist John Cocuzzi, and there's not a clinker in the batch with "Church" and "You Were Always There" particular standouts. "All Night Long" once again proves these guys will be around long after dance and fashion fads fade away. Fans of tough and tender blues that swing with a vengeance should check this one out. — Ames Arnold

Rah Bras "Ruy Blas" (Lovitt)

The first thing you notice are the three Rah Bras at the bottom of the album cover huddled together like the cast for a "Camelot" meets "Tommy" after-school special. Then you notice the album and band names at the top, all decked out in cryptic symbols.

Open the cover and you are introduced to Boo Rah, Jean Rah and Isabellarah Rubella, who sings like an opera star on helium. They perform songs like "Bababoon" ("Do you know a bababoon?/Talons are sharp as the crescent moon") and "Cleavage Multrum." In the liner notes, credit for night tacos goes to someone called Shanks, and the only person who gets a general thank-you in the dedication is a man named Victor Shackopopulous.

This Richmond band and their music are so "funny," so tongue-in-cheek and so mocking that one can't help but wonder if it's the Rah Bras who are the ones being entertained. Their snickering at times becomes at least slight contempt. If you can get over that (though getting over contempt is never easy), "Ruy Blas" is an entertaining record.

Rock music can be tedious and mundane, terms no one can use to label the Rah Bras' music. After reading another earnest investigation into the thoughts of Green Day's Billie Joe in Rolling Stone, or learning that yet another band is about to save rock 'n' roll, there's no better reality check than trying to figure out the impishly sung lyrics in the Rah Bras' "Sooop Toe Pump Girls," or listening to heroic vocals surge with triumphant synth pop in their over-the-top "Arty of the Irst Art."

Poor souls without a sense of humor will be baffled by this music. Most, I hope, will not be. But sometimes the joke is laid on so thick that it becomes difficult to swallow. —
>Wayne Melton

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