Rotations

Well past the angry-young-man thing and exercising admirable control of his notorious Motown hard-on, Weller wears his heroes on his sleeve, even more markedly than in the past. They are right there, on the collage that adorns this twelve-song collection: a winsome Aretha, a young and achingly handsome John Lennon. Weller owes Lennon the most, and it is no coincidence that the brick-inlaid lettering on the back cover of this album directly echoes that most revered of Pepperland roads, Abbey. Hell, even some of the juicy riffs here sound as if they were lifted from the Fab Four. (See if you don't pick up the devious thump of "Come Together" in Weller's "Porcelain Gods.")

That's not to say Stanley Road should be held up against the Beatles. This record isn't going to change your life. But it may very well be enough to adjust your attitude. Sweetly.

By Steven Almond

Grand Puba
2000
(Elektra)

A little too soon to call an album 2000, perhaps? Not for Grand Puba. Based on how long it took to deliver this record, it's likely Puba is counting on it to carry him through the end of the decade. After appearing on two of rap's more accomplished and entertaining releases -- Brand Nubian's 1990 debut, One for All, and his own 1992 solo effort, Reel to Reel -- Grand Puba seemed to fall off the face of hip-hop. Three years later, he has resurfaced, first freestyling in a Sprite commercial, and now with his long overdue second solo album.

Puba carried the two above-mentioned records on the inventiveness of his rhyme style: a little Slick Rick swagger, some Biz Markie pop-culture referencing and tone-deaf singing, and a lot of Puba's own distinctive whine and boast. On 2000 he recaptures all of that and sounds as if he's never been away. As before, he packs scores of name drops and song snatches (from Erkel, on TV's Family Matters, to "Little Drummer Boy") in between his own self-aggrandizing hyperbole, earning more than a few chuckles for his efforts. Also tried-and-true Puba: The tracks favor a heavy bounce and melodic soul groove over the more raw and rhythmic funk backings of many rappers, which means more music and fatter hooks than you normally hear. Plus, he's toned down to a minimum the Nation of Islam-derived race theories that occasionally have popped up in his lyrics in the past.

The only disappointment: not enough material, a mere eleven songs, many of which lean more on a hired R&B singer's croon than on Puba's raps. Not to worry, though -- 2001 is just around the corner.

By Roni Sarig

Incognito
100o and Rising
(Verve Forecast/Talkin Loud)

Kind of odd that Brits would keep alive the sound of uptown American soul music, which traces a time line from late-Sixties Isaac Hayes through early-Seventies Aretha Franklin through its mid-Seventies heyday with Earth, Wind and Fire, Ashford and Simpson, Tavares, the Three Degrees, and Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra, right through to late-Seventies Chic and Cheryl Lynn. But they have, from dabblers such as Everything But the Girl and Sade to acolytes such as Style Council and Swing Out Sister. But no one -- Brit or otherwise -- has evoked the genre quite as effectively or convincingly as Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick, who, as producer, principal songwriter, and guitarist, rides herd on the U.K.'s Incognito. Instrumentally, Maunick adroitly meshes the lush (strings, Fender Rhodes piano, vibes) with the street (popping bass, fatback drums), then rotates a group of clear-voiced singers -- mostly women -- to flesh out his songs, which range from calls for empowerment ("Roots," the title cut) to meditations on urbane love ("Spellbound and Speechless," "I Hear Your Name"). Really superb.

By Michael Yockel

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