Marianne Flemming
III Chords & a Bridge
(Mermaid Records)

Despite the album's title, Marianne Flemming's acoustic-guitar driven music, at its best, surpasses the usual rock and roll formula. At the deep end it can touch and chill you, as on the beautiful "Out to Sea"; at the other side of the pool, it can be a rollicking, sexy romp, as on the slow-sizzle blues "Main Squeeze," vocally displaying the singer's sly grin tucked firmly into her right dimple.

Lyric sophistication is met head on by topnotch musicianship, particularly the bass work of Tony Smith, mining a deep groove from the opening folk-rocker "Miles Apart" to the jazzy "Soul Survivor," which closes out this eclectic eleven-song collection of originals. The outstanding Billy Burns provides gritty blues harp accompaniment on "Main Squeeze" and Adam Chalk turns out some killer piano runs on raucous numbers such as "Us and Them."

But it's Flemming's rhythmically challenging acoustic guitar playing (it's no coincidence that the credits read "Acoustic Guitar: M.F." Got that right.) and her involving way with a lyric that lifts the record to something special. Not that the backing is superfluous A there are some great band workouts here A but one wonders how powerful a record Flemming might release with nothing but voice and guitar. One's question is partially answered on the stunning "Out to Sea." Loneliness, despair, desertion, and hope for redemption through love all are communicated using an old boat as metaphor: "Dry rot has taken these bones/Left me just a hollow shell/Too gone to turn back now/I hold on for one last voyage." Coupled with poignant and ringing guitar lines (mandolinlike at some points) and a vocal tour de force that swoops from warbling yodel to breathy whisper, the song unlocks fears and desires deep, primal, and universal (pop this in the Walkman and go stare at the ocean, particularly on a windy day, for maximum effect).

From folky meditations to blues to flat-out rock and roll to Latin and reggae shades and even a jazz vocal, III Chords is a star turn from a great talent.

-- Bob Weinberg

Marianne Flemming performs at 9:30 Thursday (tonight) at Blue Steel, 2895 Collins Ave, Miami Beach; 672-1227. Admission is free.

Me Against the World

I'm tired of the same old "See what happens when you make songs about violence and bitches and stuff?" Violent music begets violent acts. Listen to Luke and you will rape. Listen to Tupac and you'll go a-gunning in the streets. Nobody's listening to a damn thing.

I wonder what the white-bread (of any race) music critics would write about Tupac Shakur's new album if he had died as a result of that Times Square street shooting back in November. Probably it'd be writ as even more dangerous. (In one of the few shooting incidents in which Shakur was neither victim nor perp, the rapper/actor is being sued by the widow of a police officer because the alleged killer listened to Shakur's music.)

Or would we get a pity review? Something along the lines of: "We should've seen it coming, this troubled young man from the dark side of Amerikkka's socioeconomic track record represents a target. But at least, oh Lordy, he left us with a message so we can all learn better next time. And you know there'll be a next time."

That's the most troubling line in the media's chorus about Shakur's life (not his music). Kevin Powell, whose job seems to be covering Shakur for Vibe, offered this: "If we turn a deaf ear now, we'll most definitely hear the noise later." New York Newsday's Dwight Worley, writing in Request, ended his essay with this: "Before every war there are war drums. We had better start listening."

Surely to the chagrin of pundits everywhere, Shakur's latest album is more groove than bloodshed, a lot closer to New Jack than to the N.W.A.-Public Enemy axis to which Shakur is most often aligned by the press. This bio-confessional A his lyrics are almost of the "Dear Diary" approach A with rhymes and beats is the last record a G needs to be jammin' when he's out with his 9 bustin' caps. This is a record for getting blunted, my brother, sitting with your sweetie in a haze of incense, the lights low.

The quietest storm is the album's first single, "Dear Mama," a lovely if unsubtle tribute to his moms, Afeni, a former Black Panther and one-time crack addict who now works for her son's entertainment company. It includes specifics ("And even as a crack fiend mama/You always was a black queen mama") as well as the universal adulthood knowledge that, damn, your parents really did know more about life than you did. Not high art, the song still moves the heart more than the feet or the trigger finger.

And while the title track and "Fuck the World" might seem on the surface to be the whinings of a paranoid loser, well, the man has reasons to be paranoid. He's been charged with (and cleared of) shooting at white cops in Atlanta (cops who described the incident in their report as "niggers doing a drive-by"). In 1991 he was busted in Oakland for jaywalking A and resisting arrest. He was arrested (charges dropped) for roughing up a rude limo driver. He was dropped from the movie Menace II Society for being, well, a perceived menace to society. He's been shot up and is currently serving a four-and-a-half year sentence on a sex-abuse conviction and, worst of all, he has had to endure the media's coverage of all this.

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