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*** 1/2 MARIAH CAREY "Rainbow" Columbia

October 31, 1999|ELYSA GARDNER

Over the past decade, Carey has grown from a precociously gifted baby diva into an ambitious, autonomous artist who can attract leading hip-hop and R&B savants to her turf. On her new album (in stores Tuesday), the singer-songwriter-producer continues to team up with some of the hottest talent in contemporary urban music. But she also emphasizes the feature that made her a mega-star in the first place: her chops as a classic pop-soul balladeer.

Among Carey's collaborators are Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, whose gracefully funky sensibilities inspire a slinky sexiness in Carey's vocals on the quiet-storm charmer "Bliss." The singer brings a similarly light, sensuous touch to the breezy single "Heartbreaker," which features a sly rap by Jay-Z, and to other hip-hop/soul confections such as the sprightly "How Much" (featuring Usher) and the sinuous, bass-driven "X-Girlfriend."

But Carey is perhaps most impressive on the more earnestly passionate numbers. On ballads such as "Can't Take That Away (Mariah's Theme)" and a surprisingly faithful, forthright version of Phil Collins' "Against All Odds"--both produced by Jam, Lewis and Carey--she resists her tendency to over-embellish notes and focuses on what really matters: the melody and lyrics. Exhibiting an emotional authority to match her technical prowess, Carey gives us a vision of love that's dynamic without being ostentatious.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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* Excerpts from recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips

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