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"Me Against the World" boasts as much hopefulness as defeatist rant, and the song benefits from gorgeous female backing vocals by Puff Johnson."Fuck the World" deals the sexual-assault case straight up: "Who you callin' rapist A ain't that a bitch/You devils are so two faced/Want to see me locked in chains/Trapped in shame and getting socked by them crooked cops again." The delivery is tuneful and croonful, not in-your-face snarling. Surprisingly, what might be the best track isn't about Shakur's rocky life at all. "Old School" is a hook-laden tribute to rap's roots that's as hard to shake as the influence of the pioneers it mentions.

There's much good music here...if you can hear it through the noise the media brings to Tupac Shakur's life.

-- Greg Baker

Ali Farka Toure with Ry Cooder
Talking Timbuktu
(Hannibal/Rykodisc)

Still pissed off about the prizes given so many bland musicians at this year's Grammys? Wonder why the performers who really deserve awards are so rarely honored? Well, take comfort from the Grammy given to Mali guitar great Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder for their transcendent blend of African and blues roots in Talking Timbuktu.

Cooder, the extraordinary slide guitarist who has long specialized in bringing little-known musical styles to wider audiences, here serves as producer and sideman for Toure and his band, Groupe Asko. Toure is best known for playing hypnotic, droning guitar that reminds Westerners of John Lee Hooker. But on this album, a gentler, truly inspiring sound emerges, delicately shaded by such African instruments as a m'bira, or thumb piano. On some cuts, Cooder's tasteful slide work joins with Toure's propulsively rhythmic guitar and keening vocals to create something genuinely new and wonderful: an African music tinged with blues, and suffused with poignance, passion, and heart. This album is so powerful that it inspires the crazed hope that if everyone in the world could hear it, all war would stop. It will be loved long after Sheryl Crow's fifteen minutes of fame have expired.

-- Art Levine

Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets featuring Sam Myers
Live at the Grand Emporium
(Black Top)

A blues fable: Once upon a time, there was a jukin', jivin' Texas blues band, busting hump on the tour circuit trying to make a name for itself (not an easy task when hardly anyone can pronounce your front man's name A no, not Thunderbird, Funderburgh). At the same time, there was this veteran Mississippi bluesman A he could sing, blow harp, even did so beside the late great Elmore James A whose career seemed to have stalled. Then one day the bluesman met the blues band, and it's been magic time ever since.

Garnering almost yearly W.C. Handy Award nominations (they took home one of the little blue-note statuettes for their record Sins back in 1988 and won Best Blues Band honors in 1992 and 1994), Funderburgh and the Rockets with Sam Myers have come up with a tough-to-beat combination, as displayed on this live recording of a 1994 show in Kansas City, Missouri.

Funderburgh is a remarkable guitarist, laying down all kinds of intricate shuffles and burning with a restrained intensity (more like Austinite Jimmie Vaughan than brother Stevie Ray, but heavily influenced by B.B. King and Albert Collins, too), as he effortlessly stings Freddy King's "Sidetracked" to start things out, and ices Collins's "Backstroke" on the tail end. For their part, the Rockets are red hot, particularly Sonny Leyland riding the rocket 88s, and Pat Whitefield walking a heavy groove with his upright bass.

Although you'll find stronger singers, Myers puts forth a song with great feeling on both vocals and harmonica, mostly attributable to his Deep South roots and bountiful experience. In fact, Myers sounds less like the "Deacon of the Delta," as he's introduced, than he does a citified soul man of the B.B. King-Bobby Bland variety.

Two of the standouts here are Myers originals: "Turning My Life Around," a spin on an old song (Leroy Carr's "Sloppy Drunk"), and a Memphis-style ditty co-written with Funderburgh, "Trying to Make You Mine." Myers's earnest delivery also shines on the bouncy torch song "Empty Arms" and the partyin' "Wild Cherry."

And they all boogied happily ever after.
-- Bob Weinberg

Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets featuring Sam Myers perform at 9:30 tonight (Thursday) at the Backroom, 16 E Atlantic Ave, Delray Beach; 407-243-9110; tickets cost seven dollars; and at 9:00 p.m. tomorrow (Friday) at Tobacco Road, 626 S Miami Ave; 374-1198. Tickets cost six dollars.

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