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Pop Music | Record Rack

One Child's destiny: an adept solo fling

October 20, 2002|Natalie Nichols; Randy Lewis; Steve Hochman; Soren Baker; Don Heckman; Agustin Gurza

Kelly Rowland

"Simply Deep"

***, Columbia

One of the other members of megastar R&B-pop trio Destiny's Child, Kelly Rowland scores points for truth in advertising with her debut solo bow. This 14-track collection (in stores Tuesday) contains no big insights, but its adept mainstream-pop ruminations on life and love are surprisingly subtle, with an appealing sincerity that never turns maudlin.

Abetted by the usual throng of producers and songwriters, along with guests Nelly and Solange Knowles (yes, Beyonce's younger sister), Rowland doesn't bowl you over with her personality. But her fine voice adapts nicely to different settings. She brings an ardent sadness to the single "Stole," a rock-flavored soul tune about promising young lives snuffed out; and a believable sense of wonder to the gently percussive "(Love Lives in) Strange Places." One of three songs she co-wrote, it reflects on how the right one often comes along quite unexpectedly.

Rowland deals mostly with romantic hopes and disappointments, shifting confidently from whispered urgency ("Obsession") to sighing heartbreak ("Everytime You Walk Out That Door") to breathy come-on ("Make U Wanna Stay"). But she also musters up some attitude for more dance floor-oriented tunes such as "Dilemma," her propulsively boppy smash duet with Nelly that reworks the Patti LaBelle '80s R&B hit "Love, Need and Want You."


Santana lets the guests run party



** 1/2, Arista

Let's face it: The tinkly tune from an ice-cream truck would turn sensually soulful if Carlos Santana added his scorching guitar and his band's seductive, pan-Latin rhythms.

So it is in "Shaman" (in stores Tuesday), the follow-up to the group's Grammy-sweeping, 11-million-plus selling "Supernatural," as Santana plays musical shaman by sprucing up several routine pop songs and rescuing some awkward collaborations with his time-tested recipe.

The veteran fret wizard isn't about to tamper with a formula as super-successful as "Supernatural's," which means guest stars galore once again. Macy Gray, Michelle Branch, Dido, Seal, Musiq, Ozomatli, Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, P.O.D. and even Placido Domingo are aboard this time. Few of the pairings yield real magic, though Santana's inextinguishable musicality makes it impossible to dismiss any as wasted efforts.

The gutsy artistic move after "Supernatural" would have been to refocus attention on the man, his guitar and his band -- that's who creates the highlights here, the Afro-Cuban "Adouma," "Foo Foo," "Victory Is Won" and "Aye Aye Aye."

Instead, Santana sounds like a sparkling guest at his own bash, often too busy in the kitchen to step out and assume his rightful role as the life of the party.

--Randy Lewis


Foos' latest: Good, could be better

Foo Fighters

"One by One"

***, RCA

"All my life I've been searching for something. ... Nothing satisfies, but I'm getting close," sings Dave Grohl in the rapid-fire opening of "All My Life," the first song on his Foo Fighters' fourth album (due Tuesday). Throughout the album he confronts the frustration of having goals in sight but not quite getting there. And while that sense has always been the emotional foundation for the Foos, Nirvana alumnus Grohl has brought new maturity to the subject.

The song "Tired," in particular, trades in the band's muscular power-punk for a slow-simmering stew of internal conflicts over an unhealthy relationship. It's more subtly shaded than Nirvana's stares into the abyss, if less compelling. And Grohl generally lacks Cobain's essential gallows humor. But it still packs a sting.

The close-but-not-quite frustrations also apply to some of the music. There's an impressive expansion of the Foos' range with the staccato rush of "All My Life," the tortured calm of "Tired" and some nice melodic pop-rock twists in "Times Like These" and "Have It All." But in other places there's a drift toward arena-rock conventions. Grohl has proven before that he can set -- and reach -- higher goals than that.

-- Steve Hochman


More hot jams from LL Cool J

LL Cool J


***, Def Jam

LL Cool J has been a model of consistency in a genre that cannibalizes its elder statesmen, eager to replace them. With his ninth studio album (in stores Tuesday), the Queens hip-hop star again shows he's got enough edge to satisfy hard-core rap fans and the kind of jams to hook the more radio-reliant. The single "Luv U Better" features LL apologizing for his shortcomings and promising to improve his behavior, while "Big Momma (Unconditional Love)" is a moving paean to his grandmother, the parental figure in his life.

Even on his softer selections, LL packs his rhymes with the witty wordplay and imagination that are hallmarks of his work. On "Niggy Nuts" and "Fa Ha," he flexes a harder side, boasting of his rhyming skills on the former while warning about falling in love for the wrong reasons on the latter. "10" is another strong package from one of rap's most important figures.

--Soren Baker


Rod sings classics: It had to be him

Rod Stewart

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