The third longplayer from Reggie Noble -- a.k.a. Redman -- is his most fully realized. Redman, who for his rare combination of wit, magnetism, and other-worldly strangeness could be hip-hop's David Bowie, brings Muddy Waters his regal, self-effacing combination of humor and social commentary reminiscent of Slick Rick's best work. "I smoke with a lotta college students/Most of 'em wasn't graduatin' and they knew it," he kicks on "Whateva Man." The hilarious pseudo-blaxploitation romp "Soopaman Luva 3" includes an unexpected visit by the old EPMD flame Jane, and concludes abruptly with Red giving Parrish Smith "a two-piece with a biscuit." "Pick It Up," "Smoke Buddah," and "Do What You Feel" are typical of Erick Sermon's understated and underrated funk prowess on the boards. And having Keith Murray, K-Solo, and Method Man all doing cameos doesn't hurt the album any either.

Redman has set himself apart and carved a nice spot in the hip-hop market for two reasons: First, unlike most rap artists, he is a performer first, a recording artist second, and this is clearly evident on Muddy Waters. Second, he embodies what George Clinton once said: "Funk is whatever it needs to be, at the time that it is." Redman doesn't try to make it happen, he just lets it happen.

-- Jesse Ballinger

Gene Watson
The Good Ole Days
(Step One Records)

From 1975 to '85, Gene Watson was as successful on the country charts as almost any singer going, a particularly impressive feat since his singles were unabashed honky-tonk in the period when country-pop was giving way to country-rock. During his good old days, traditionalist Watson dropped just enough contemporary touches into his music to remain vital in increasingly untraditional times. Always an accomplished singer with an achingly earnest tenor, he outdid himself on his finest moment of all, 1977's "Farewell Party," where his voice soared with an anguish as exquisite as any in all of country music.

Watson hasn't been so lucky in the days of Garth and Brooks & Dunn, so perhaps in keeping with the title of his latest album, he has chosen to re-record a few of his earlier hits. The results are mixed. On "Love in the Hot Afternoon" and "I Don't Need a Thing at All," both Top 10 hits in the mid-Seventies, the original versions have been recreated so exactingly that the differences seem irrelevant. On the other hand, "Speak Softly (You're Talking to My Heart)," a 1982 hit, has been recast altogether. The hot pickin' and front-porch groove of the original have been traded for the big drums and barrelhouse piano of hot new country. These compromises, behind Watson's great voice, create a moment far superior to what typically passes for "hot" these days. One new cut, "The Man That Broke Your Heart," pulls off a similar trick: If Alan Jackson recorded the same song in the same rocking arrangement, he'd have himself another chart topper. Too bad then that Watson, at (just) 53 years of age, has about as much chance of cracking today's young country formats as Grandpa Jones.

But Watson doesn't need to relive past triumphs or update his sound to create great music. His voice and phrasing on a trio of fine Western swing numbers here are impeccable, diminished only by horn arrangements nearer to Doc Severinsen than Bob Wills. The steel-guitar-fueled "Getting Over You Again" is simply flawless honky-tonk and best of all, the desperate "Change Your Mind" has Watson begging Jesus to turn the heart of a departed lover in a performance that's nearly the equal of "Farewell Party." On these cuts Watson proves that what he sings in the title track is dead on: "The good ol' days are right now."

-- David Cantwell

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