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RECORD RACK

Another part of a partyer

September 26, 2004|Soren Baker; Randy Lewis

Nelly

"Sweat" (Universal)

***

"Suit" (Universal)

***

This St. Louis rapper put his city on the rap map with enduring songs about having fun, having sex, dealing with relationship foibles and even wearing brand-new sneakers. For his third and fourth albums, Nelly decided to release two separate collections simultaneously, with "Sweat" purportedly dedicated to his signature up-tempo party-starters and "Suit" focusing on the more sophisticated Nelly, a side seldom heard in much of his enjoyably hedonistic music. Each collection somewhat sticks to its goal, but each has songs that could have easily fit on either release.

"Sweat" features "Na-Nana-Na" and "Flap Your Wings," two songs perfect for the dance floor. Producer Jazze Pha's skeletal, percussion-driven beat propels the former with dazzling efficiency, while the Neptunes' percolating, escalating sound bed drives the latter into a raucous climax for each chorus. "Tilt Ya Head" with Christina Aguilera also seems destined for crossover status thanks to their lively exchanges and a groove borrowed from Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly."

"Suit," on the other hand, mostly features Nelly reflecting about his regrets and his accomplishments. On "My Place," a smooth-flowing duet with rugged crooner Jaheim, Nelly picks up where he left off on his infidelity-themed smash "Dilemma," which featured Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child. Here, Nelly tries to rekindle a love with a girl who has moved on. Nelly's sing-song style works masterfully on the soothing cut.

He then turns the focus to himself on "Over and Over," a tender duet with Tim McGraw. He revisits his own shortcomings in a disarming manner that's matched only on "Die for You," where he caringly discusses the birth of his children and how the demands of his stardom keeps him away from them.

In these moments of reflection, Nelly emerges as a serious songwriter who moves the mind as effectively as he does the body.

-- Soren Baker

Echoes of the past are the problem

John Fogerty

"Deja Vu All Over Again" (Geffen)

**

Deja VU, indeed. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer hits some thrilling notes on his first album in six years, but most of them echo past glories -- his and others' -- rather than chart new vistas.

The title tune gives him an eloquent trinity of social justice-seeking anthems alongside his Creedence Clearwater Revival "rain" classics -- "Who'll Stop the Rain" and "Have You Ever Seen the Rain."

The rest of the album's songs frequently touch on other rock staples, from the funky Lou Reed "Walk on the Wild Side" gait of "Sugar-Sugar (In My Life)" to the Hendrix-ish guitar heroism of "In the Garden."

Things sound fresher in the Carl Perkins-inspired Memphis rockabilly bounce of "Honey Do," in which Fogerty's male chauvinistic grousing is largely disarmed by the song's good-natured country-fried tone.

His other relationship songs are uneventful except for the lovely bluegrass-tinged ballad "I Will Walk With You," a parent's pledge of eternal love to a child.

Another high point is "Wicked Old Witch," which revisits without slavishly repeating the swamp-at-midnight vibe of such Creedence signature numbers as "Born on the Bayou" and "Run Through the Jungle."

Rewarding as it is to hear Fogerty back in action, you wish he'd spent less time looking out his musical back door.

-- Randy Lewis

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

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