Surprises from Rhonda Vincent and Public Enemy, not so much from a former Geto Boy
Rhonda Vincent Good Thing Going (Rounder) Rhonda Vincentâ’s sort of a bluegrass traditionalistâ"sheâ’s been playing mandolin since she was 8 and has developed into a sterling instrumentalist, a better-than-average vocalist, and a show-biz pro band leader. She covers Jimmy Martinâ’s â“Hit Parade of Loveâ” on her new album, and generally shies away from pop crossovers. Some of the strongest moments on Good Thing Going are, indeed, the old-fashioned barn-busters: â“Bluegrass Saturday Night,â” â“Hit Parade,â” and the country scorcher â“Iâ’m Leavin.â’â” The slower songs are hit-or-miss, with the heartfelt melody of â“I Will See You Againâ” winning out over its sentimentality but the traditional Irish song â“The Water Is Wideâ” dragged down by the portentous, self-consciously dramatic arrangement. The stunner, though, is â“Worldâ’s Biggest Fool,â” which isnâ’t bluegrass at all. Itâ’s a jazzy Western swing number that sounds more like Texas than Kentucky, and a plucky and fun departure from the sepia-tinted tone of much of contemporary bluegrass. Vincent has always been subtle about her adventurousness; itâ’s nice to hear some of it standing out so starkly. ( Matthew Everett )
Public Enemy Remix of a Nation (Nocturne) So just what is the purpose of resuscitating for a remix one of the iffy and only marginally successful albums of Public Enemyâ’s second-stage career? Rapper/producer Paris has achieved the near-impossible by constructing a retooled and remarkably solid album out of an original artifact, 2006â’s Rebirth of a Nation, that never seemed complete on its own.
These days, it seems as if Paris has usurped Flava Flavâ’s position as second-in-command in the Public Enemy hierarchy, which is probably a good thing. With only a few brain cells left, poor Flav seems content being VH1â’s resident shuck-and-jiver, only showing up at P.E. recording sessions to throw in an occasional comedic aside.
Paris, on the other hand, holds the ability to refocus Chuck D.â’s formidable lyrical strengths into something powerful. The key to the success of Remix is the newly added samples, usually sound bites from news broadcasts, which underscore Chuckâ’s assertions. â“Hell No, We Ainâ’t Alright,â” for example, is a lot more unsettling when supported by snippets of coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
Interestingly, the emphasis of the entire album is on the lyrics, which seems odd for a remix. The result is a jarring pastiche of sound as upsetting as its lyrical foundation. The beats are tweaked, providing a solid structure thatâ’s both scary and fun to listen to. Remix is a reminder, in case youâ’ve forgotten, of just how important Public Enemy really is. (John Sewell)
Jay-Z may be the most notable rapper closing in on 40, but the former Geto Boy Scarface, at 37, is getting there, too, and his modest new album MADE could serve as a lesson for how to approach middle-age gracefully in a young manâ’s game.
Maybe a little too gracefully, thoughâ"Scarfaceâ’s production is predictably elegant and understated, accented by stately synths and strings, and his delivery is as low-key as ever. But his performance is too deadpanâ"only on the regrettably preachy â“Who Do You Believe Inâ” and the sharp â“Git Out My Faceâ” does he show any real energyâ"and the tempos are uniformly mid-tempo, with little of the doped, syrupy rhythm of his work with the Geto Boys. And a couple of the best songsâ"â“Burnâ” (â“My hands got powder burns, I just murdered a manâ”), featuring the cavernous bass of Houston rapper Z-Ro, and â“Boy Meets Girl,â” with an R&B hook from Tanya Herronâ"are stolen by their guest stars.
MADE ends strong, with the elegiac â“The Suicide Note,â” a song that recalls the frantic paranoia of his classic verse on â“Mind Playinâ’ Tricks on Me.â” But overall itâ’s just not enough. ( M.E. )
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