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RECORD RACK

Ludacris takes the Pepsi challenge

October 12, 2003|Soren Baker; Natalie Nichols; Dean Kuipers; Robert Hilburn; Randy Lewis

Ludacris

"Chicken-N-Beer" (Def Jam South)

*** 1/2

This Atlanta artist earned a high-profile adversary last year when conservative TV-radio commentator Bill O'Reilly chastised Pepsi for using the R-rated rapper to push its soda. Ludacris subsequently lost his endorsement and he strikes back at O'Reilly on his third major-label album.

But as is typically the case with Ludacris' intense yet lighthearted music, there's more humor than rage in his disdain for his TV foe. Ludacris levels verbal jabs at O'Reilly on the searing "Blow It Out" and the comedic "Hoes in My Room."

It's the rapper's way with words and his engaging delivery patterns that have made him one of the genre's most popular and consistently rewarding artists. Ludacris showcases his verbal gymnastics throughout this 17-cut collection and dedicates the chorus-free, three-minute plus "Hip-Hop Quotables" to demonstrating his knack for stringing together clever couplets.

Elsewhere, the dance floor-ready "Stand Up" is one of the year's best rap singles, while "P-Poppin'" makes X-rated sex talk so funny that it's hard to disapprove. Never one to shy away from some of his less than honorable pursuits, Ludacris delivers a tongue-in-cheek discussion of drugs on "Screwed Up" and touts his penchant for firearms on "We Got."

Ludacris should expect to hear from O'Reilly again, real soon.

-- Soren Baker

Meshell Ndegeocello tones down the vitriol

Meshell Ndegeocello

"Comfort Woman" (Maverick)

***

"Would you walk a righteous path without the promise of heaven, paradise, streets paved in gold?" singer-bassist Ndegeocello asks in "Fellowship," a plea (or demand, really) for understanding across religious lines.

The song has its sharp edges, but like most of these 10 tracks, the vitriol that's part of her previous four collections is dialed down, making the track more questioning than accusatory, its ruminations more reflective than confrontational. Indeed, "Comfort Woman" (in stores Tuesday) floats in a cocoon of harmonic near-ecstasy, from the clouds of bliss on "Come Smoke My Herb" to the carnal pleasures coaxed from "Body."

The album title implies the fleeting favors of a temporary tryst, but Ndegeocello actually celebrates more lasting kinds of love, the physical and spiritual entwined in both flesh and soul. The music flows like water, blending her distinct, embedded-in-the-heart bass lines with jazz, R&B and pulsating electronica.

Nothing here is so politically charged as some of her earlier numbers, but Ndegeocello has always mixed the push and pull of relationships with her cultural commentaries and social views. And in truth, even while opting for this more soothing stance, she still manages to say something about the state of the world.

-- Natalie Nichols

PJ Harvey finds a musical oasis

Various artists

"The Desert Sessions 9 & 10" (Ipecac)

***

It's either Halloween all the time on the desert, or Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme just has an ear for the evil that taints the winds in Joshua Tree. But on the latest volumes of the guitarist-vocalist's near-continuous side project, Desert Sessions (each volume approximates one side of vinyl), J-Ho & Co. forgo some of their characteristic generator-party sludgefuzz excess for an even more dangerous dalliance with the funereal blues of PJ Harvey.

Harvey first makes her presence felt in the backing vocals, piano and sax she provides on the lighthearted "I Wanna Make It Wit Chu." But she asserts psychological dominance in the hollowed-out one-take blues screed "There Will Never Be a Better Time."

Stone Age-style guitar howl still abounds, with the boys extending their road-rock fascinations with "In My Head? Or Something" and the psycho-funk of "Subcutaneous Phat."

But Homme's misfit casting gels like never before on a couple of these songs, most notably on the spooky fuzz-bath "Crawl Home" and electro-minuet "Powdered Wig Machine." These are satisfying, fully realized songs by what sounds like a new band first finding artistic convergence. With Harvey in full, baleful voice, and the band locked in at its most extroverted, we can only hope this is a portent of more (evil) things to come.

-- Dean Kuipers

Pedestal becomes stumbling block

Martina McBride

"Martina" (RCA)

**

In the 11 years since her debut album, this plucky singer has staked out her territory as country music's poster woman for female independence and self-sufficiency. That mantle often becomes a burden on her sixth studio album.

Her intentions are noble, but only frequently do those intentions manifest in revealing artistry. She's chosen more anthems of self-worth, but they celebrate triumph over adversity in such generalized terms that they cheat the listener out of specifics that might lend those victories the weight of truth.

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