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POP MUSIC | 'RECORD RACK

'Passion' Comes Through

****, ME'SHELL NDEGEOCELLO, "Peace Beyond Passion," Maverick

June 23, 1996|Robert Hilburn

Ndegeocello's "Plantation Lullabies" was an inspired 1993 debut whose key moments reflected much of the purity and seduction of the best '60s and '70s soul music. "I'm Diggin' You (Like an Old Soul Record)" and "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)" were such superbly crafted tracks that they seemed at the time like career works.

This remarkably accomplished follow-up album, however, makes the sentiments on "Plantation" seem almost timid. At its center, "Peace Beyond Passion" is infused with the radical ambition and daring commentary of an artist who has found the inner power and the craft to break personal and musical boundaries.

Having found an audience with "Plantation," Ndegeocello, one senses, felt a responsibility to use her platform to explore issues ranging from racism and religion to sexism. Part of the album's power comes from an underlying tension that makes it clear the challenges aren't just posed for others, but are in places self-directed in an act of personal exorcism.

"Leviticus: Faggot," the first single from this collection, is a blunt look at intolerance that mixes the elegant feel of social commentaries in the tradition of Curtis Mayfield with a contemporary blend of R&B, hip-hop and jazz that defies quick categorization.

Though it's Ndegeocello's own songs that give the album its spirit and substance, she transforms Bill Withers' "Who Is He and What Is He to You" into a striking summary piece for this enriching, spiritually tinged collection.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good), four stars (excellent).

* TimesLine 808-8463

To hear excerpts from the albums reviewed, call TimesLine and press * and the artist's corresponding four-digit code.

Me'Shell Ndegeocello *5715

In 805 area code, call (818) 808-8463.

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