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POP ALBUM REVIEWS

Adams goes into a stark place

December 20, 2005|Randy Lewis;Soren Baker

Ryan Adams

"29" (Lost Highway)

***

IT'S hard to tell through this supremely dark group of songs whether you're listening to a work of art or a cry for help.

Ryan Adams delivers a compendium of tunes in which he wrestles with myriad demons -- drugs, lethargy, hopelessness, desperation, loss, anger -- so relentlessly you want to put him on a 72-hour suicide watch. The sparse music is correspondingly moody in often compelling tales that alternate between third-person character sketches and first-person pieces that sound like diary entries from a poetically minded writer.

The eeriness is taken further with such production touches as the howling wind noises on "Blue Sky Blues" that exaggerate feelings of alienation. "The Sadness" amps things up a bit with its flamenco-tinged rock, an ominous minor-key verse leading into an achingly beautiful but still haunting chorus. There are no convenient light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel happy endings here. Adams is so prolific -- this is his third album this year -- that there's good reason to look at this collection as his snapshot of one particular period of isolation and desolation. Three months from now we may get his views on the aspects of life that make it worth living. Until then, somebody might want to keep the sharp objects locked away.

*

Randy Lewis

Biggie's gone

but not forgotten

The Notorious B.I.G.

"Duets: The Final Chapter"

(Bad Boy)

* *

THE supremely talented Brooklyn rapper Notorious B.I.G. released only one album before he was killed in 1997. But unlike his equally revered rival Tupac Shakur, who suffered the same fate a year earlier and whose estate has released a glut of product, material from Biggie, as he was also known, has been limited.

On his third posthumous release (due in stores today), it's evident that the well has run largely dry, as well-known verses and rare verses from the late rapper are often sloppily cobbled together with guest vocals from rappers and singers he never met and production that often fails to pass muster.

On "Nasty Girl," a reworking of sorts of Biggie's "Nasty Boy," a bland, indistinctive, disco-like beat from usually reliable producer Jazze Pha diminishes Biggie's potent delivery style. When the pairings work, the results are powerful. Meditative piano and drums and a strong guest turn from the Game on "1970 Somethin' " complement Biggie's dreary lyrics about the trauma of his birth, while dramatic strings and piano, the wailing singing of Mary J. Blige and guest raps from Nas and Tupac on "Living in Pain" are in sync with Biggie's murderous thoughts.

Too bad that level of duet is in short supply here.

*

Soren Baker

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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