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Record Rack

The best songwriter you've never heard of?

March 09, 2003|Robert Hilburn; Steve Hochman; Don Heckman; Soren Baker; Steve Appleford

And it turns explicitly prayerful with the African-tinged gospel number "Blessed to Be a Witness" and the a cappella collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, "Picture of Jesus."

The latter evokes Paul Simon's mold-breaking "Graceland" album and suggests that Harper might be ready to break some molds himself.

-- S.H.

Quick spins

Lil' Kim

"La Bella Mafia" (Atlantic)

***

Rebounding from 2000's dismal "The Notorious K.I.M.," the provocative Brooklyn rapper returns on her third album with a strong collection of feisty hip-hop. Sure, her racy raps revolve around materialism and her much-talked-about sexuality, but her gruff, seductive voice adds plenty of appeal. Still, the real strength here is the production from J. Waxx Garfield, Timbaland and others, as well as A-list guests such as Twista and 50 Cent.

-- Soren Baker

Everclear

"Slow Motion Daydream" (Capitol)

***

Art Alexakis is fine with growing up. There's good material there, man-sized demons to battle as Gen-X drifts toward middle age. Loud guitars fuel sophisticated pop of brains and heart, rarely slipping into formulas not his own. Witness the maturing of his own generation on "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom," as bad girls go mainstream. Alexakis sings, "I wonder where all the porn stars go ... Think they all moved out to the suburbs." Dark and humane.

-- Steve Appleford

Buju Banton

"Friends for Life" (VP/Atlantic)

*** 1/2

Although a catchy reggae single seems to become a smash every year or so, the genre goes largely unnoticed in the mainstream. Anyone looking to indulge in some of the music's premier work would be advised to pick up the latest masterpiece from reggae master Buju Banton (due Tuesday). The Jamaican's moving odes to unity ("Maybe We Are") and perseverance ("All Will Be Fine," "Up Ye Mighty Race") stir the soul, while his dance tunes ("Tra La La," "Teaser") are Grade-A jams.

-- S.B.

King Crimson

"The Power to Believe" (Sanctuary)

***

Words are not the point of King Crimson, a band already contemplative and intense with barely any vocal clutter. "Dangerous Curves" slowly erupts without a single word spoken over the minimalist patterns of guitarist Robert Fripp. This art rock broods with tension and tone. Later, singer-guitarist Adrian Belew satirizes pop formula across a riff as direct as AC/DC as he deadpans: "When I have some words, this is the way I'll sing ....Gonna have to write a chorus." Well said.

-- Steve Appleford

*

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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