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Celine gets repackaged for Top 40

October 14, 2007|August Brown | Times Staff Writer

Is it time to reconsider Celine Dion? With her Vegas show, "A New Day," wrapping up in December after a 4 1/2 -year run as an indisputable hit, the popular 33 1/3 book series is planning a respectful treatise on her role in popular culture and her forthcoming album, "Taking Chances" (due Nov. 13), features compositions by recent pop-chart stalwarts Linda Perry and Ne-Yo.

The most unlikely writing credit on "Chances" may be the one for former Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody. Moody has written tracks for Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson, but those artists are at least vaguely based in rock music. What would he do with a Francophone diva best known for Titanically weepy ballads?

"She's one of the most amazing vocalists alive, her recordings and live performances are flawless," Moody said. "To me it's all just music, I don't care what the format is."

The format may be an unlikely attempt to get Dion back onto Top 40 radio. Moody (along with frequent writing collaborator David Hodges) contributed writing and production to two songs on "Chances." One, a cover of Heart's "Alone," gets a slightly creepy makeover from tinkling pianos and enveloping strings, suggesting that Dion's intentions when she gets you alone may not be as wholesome as planned.

But Moody and Hodges' original song, the anti-domestic-violence plea "This Time," is unusual for all parties. Dion has rarely ventured out of safe, power-of-love territory lyrically, and erstwhile metal-guitarist Moody isn't on anyone's list of go-to writers for a female empowerment anthem.

"She doesn't usually do political songs," Moody admits. "But it's just the direction it took. I had the idea for the phrase 'this time,' and the story just got laid out in front of me."

Judging by the unexpectedly sexed-out cover of "Taking Chances" (think tasteful cleavage and windblown tresses), the collaboration is part of a significant repackaging of Dion that may or may not stick on pop radio. But for Moody, working with her was infinitely easier than some 19-year-old MySpace find.

"With certain artists, if they want to be [difficult], they've at least earned the right," Moody said. "Of all people, [Dion] had the right to be full of herself, but she wasn't like that at all. She was so unbelievably classy."

These issues truly engage Ndgeocello

The best album about religion in 2007 isn't a country paean to Jesus taking the wheel or a fire-starting folk indictment of Bush and Cheney. It might just be Meshell Ndgeocello's "The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams," a madly ambitious musing on sex and relationships as an expression of the divine.

"Religion and sex have a complicated engagement," Ndgeocello said. "They both happen to me and in me and around me, and I am strained and relieved by both."

In the same ways that Marvin Gaye's "Here, My Dear" or Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" are flinty, multifaceted explorations of love and its failures, "Man of My Dreams" simultaneously embraces and debunks its subject matter.

The sonics match the many lyrical tones, bouncing from slinky dance-punk to robo-soul, spoken word and lusty slow jams. The split-personality nature seems appropriate, as Ndgeocello, who plays the Galaxy in Santa Ana on Thursday and the Echoplex on Friday, isn't trying to speak for anyone but her confused self.

"I think the powers that be are doing plenty to make fools of their own professed expertise," she said. "I always wanted to escape or be out of my vessel. I'm just trying to find a way to do it and keep living."

august.brown@latimes.com

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