Monday, January 23, 2006


Stevie Wonder: A Time To Love (Motown, 2005). By the time he was 27, yes 29 years ago, he had managed to grip the music industry by the short hairs. Few of his contemporaries could even dream of such accomplishments, yet alone live them out. Among the singer/ songwriter crowd only Dylan surpasses him. But as quickly as his star rose, his decline came just as quickly. 1979's Hotter Than July and 87's Characters were the highlights of a dwindling career that had even his most ardent of admirers wondering if the boy Wonder had packed it in. Like Springsteen before him, this album was his catharsis; a journey out of the past and into a relevant present. The melodies, always his strength, don't disappoint. And his politics, never fearful, are biting. On "If Your Love Cannot Be Moved" his words are a haunting warning: "You can't free the slaves to enslave them differently / You can't see the right only from your sight / You can't see the wrong and just go along." From lesser men the words would come off as disingenuous; with Stevie you "wonder" what took him so long. A-

Lizz Wright: Dreaming Wide Awake (Verve, 2005). At first this had the look and feel of a Cassandra Wilson album - all jazz and no soul. Then I played it again, and that was where I found the beauty of the record. Wright's voice, rough yet gentle, is the stuff singers sell their eye teeth for. Relieved from needing to sound cute, she emotes freely and sincerely. And she's also pretty damn good at covering / interpreting tunes, too. She even manages to do something with a Youngblood's song. This is what Norah Jones could be if she took the risk of not sounding "pretty." I never had the chance to hear Wright's debut, Salt, an oversight on my part that I hope to correct soon. For now buy this album. A-

Missy Elliott: The Cookbook (Atlantic/Goldmind, 2005). Like Liz Phair, Elliott not only doesn't know her "rightful" place in the scheme of things, but seems to relish the attention her defiance causes. This is one hip-hop diva who could out "fuck" any of her contemporaries and still crave more. And while she's busy satisfying her cravings she warns all the "Mr. Rights" that so long as they don't cheat or sleep around they can work that "magic stick" for her any time. This is one woman with a sweet tooth. Just don't ask her to go into the kitchen and cook for you; it might just be you in that pot. A-

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