BuzzCuts: New Music

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In this week's BuzzCuts music reviews, country singer Pat Green is on the brink of stardom, Carrie Rodriguez shines on her solo debut, "Eve of Destruction" is back and still topical, Kelis commands respect, Outkast shows off their creativity, and reality TV's Danity Kane shows promise.

Pat Green, "Cannonball"
Outkast, "Idlewild"
Kelis, "Kelis Was Here"
P.F. Sloan, "Sail Over"
Carrie Rodriguez, "Seven Angels On A Bicycle"
Danity Kane, "Danity Kane"
Pat Green, "Cannonball" (BNA)

Two years ago, when Pat Green scored a big hit with the song "Wave on Wave," he appeared ready to leap from the Texas underground to country music's mainstream. But momentum faltered, and the rowdy singer-songwriter returned to playing arenas in the Southwest and opening concerts for superstars across the rest of the country.

"Cannonball," his first album since moving to BNA Records, is an obvious attempt to streamline his sprawling, roots-rock style for the masses. For the most part, it succeeds. The gregarious Texan's words are punchier, and his arrangements more concise, giving more oomph to songs that retain the positive outlook and philosophical bent of his past work.

Green's middle-American populism and his guitar crunch are reminiscent of John Mellencamp, a trait brought out by producer Don Gehman, who worked with Mellencamp during his heyday. Songs like "Cannonball" and the first single, "Feels Like It Should," are propulsive country-rock fist-pumpers, while "Love Like That" and "Way Back Texas" are mid-tempo sing-alongs that merge Nashville craft with Green's bohemian spirit.

Green has been expected to explode as the next country music star for years now. "Cannonball" might finally provide the firepower he's needed. (Michael McCall)

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Outkast, "Idlewild" (LaFace)

Let the break-up rumors persist if they must. But with the "Idlewild" soundtrack, Outkast's Andre "3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton have proven again that even in tenuous times, they're one of music's most consistently daring groups.

The musical companion piece to their Prohibition-era big screen film — also debuting this week — "Idlewild" is far from 2000's cohesive "Stankonia." Instead it's a rambling trip through countrified rap, soul, blues and swing with its fair share of hits and misses.

Andre 3000 and Big Boi's increasingly disparate working relationship has been well-reported. Dre stands as the group's eccentric, operating outside of rap conventions and often singing in a passable falsetto.

Meanwhile, Big Boi remains rooted in hip-hop, rhyming with as much clever invention as ever. Rarely do the duo record together. The arrangement worked lovely with each combining solo efforts into one double CD, 2003's Grammy-winning "Speakerboxx / The Love Below," which sold some 11 million units.

Though "Idlewild" is a singular 25-track affair, each artist's tastes are clearly defined throughout. Of the two songs on which they rhyme together, "Mighty O" is most revealing. The tune, an update of Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher" with tumbling drums and squishy synths, is remarkable for Dre's opening verse. "Eat up whatever rapper / but I'm tangled in my cord, huh, bored," he rhymes, stating early on a mild disdain for rapping. As the disc continues, it becomes clearer that he'd rather mine his inner Prince.

But the foray into melody that made Dre's best-known smash "Hey Ya!" so ubiquitous it became an unbearable listen, is the same shtick that undermines several of his performances on "Idlewild." The unplugged blues of "Idlewild Blues (Don't Chu Worry 'Bout Me)" is a knee-slapping, guitar-driven good time and his achy croon on "Hollywood Divorce" complements slick cameos from Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg. However, by disc's end, Dre's vocals sound gimmicky, with the jazz scatting on "Makes No Sense at All" being his biggest offense.

By contrast, Big Boi is rarely out of pocket. On the Dre-produced "Morris Brown," his nimble, triple-time flow buoys the titular college's marching band on the disc's most raucous romp. Elsewhere, he favors reclining grooves whether the subject is baby mama drama ("Peaches"), casual sex ("N2U") or personal reflection ("The Train").

Differences notwithstanding, that's where the magic of Outkast exists — in that balance between Big Boi's accessible ditties and Dre's more experimental excursions. "Idlewild" is the latest proof that one voice without the other would sound much less satisfying. (Brett Johnson)

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Kelis, "Kelis Was Here" (Jive)

"You don't have to love me / you don't even have to like me / but you will respect me," Kelis asserts on "Bossy," the delightfully arrogant first single from her third album, "Kelis Was Here."

It's a presumptuous, finger-snapping declaration from an R&B diva whose biggest hit — "Milkshake" off 2003's "Tasty" — mentioned how her body, not her brains, brought all the boys to the yard.

But given the unexpected turns she takes on her latest disc, her demand is warranted. Not merely a sexpot with attitude, Kelis is equally wont to be a starry-eyed romantic ("Trilogy"), a devout lover ("Till the Wheels Fall Off"), or a spiritually connected celeb with a taste for soaring gospel touches ("Lil Star" featuring Cee-Lo).

Few songstresses can match her hot-blooded sneer — "Blindfold Me" is a naughty bedroom romp with blaring, buzzing synths. Yet the album's best moments are mainly devoid of hardcore posturing. As flute whistles accent "Like U," Kelis's breathy come-ons sound endearingly sweet: "I don't just like you / I like you, like you."

Throughout, her vocals — sometimes whisper-thin, other times a husky swoon — give the songs, many of which mine the skeletal, synth-driven sound of '80s New Wave, a decidedly soulful edge.

And when the music stretches beyond electro-pop to include some funk-soul flourishes as on "Circus," she manages to inject its warm rhythms with a reflective optimism. "Should I dive through the circle of fire?" she wonders, before concluding: "No, I'm just gonna be me."

We can all respect that. (Brett Johnson)

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P.F. Sloan, "Sailover" (HighTone Records)

Here's another reason for the Rapture Index to rise: "Eve of Destruction" is back.

If the name P.F. Sloan seems familiar, it's probably because he's the guy who rhymed "coagulating," "legislation" and "segregation" on "Eve." His composition became a No. 1 hit for Barry McGuire in 1965, and Sloan performs it on "Sailover," his first U.S. release in 30 years. He shares the song's lead vocals with Frank Black and Buddy Miller in a powerful performance, and the lyrics ("Even the Jordan River has bodies floating") remain sadly topical.

Elsewhere there's evidence of rust. Health problems curtailed Sloan's career for many years, and it's understandable he's now searching for his voice. He croons convincingly at times but also impersonates Dylan on several cuts and dabbles in country and R&B. A parade of guests (Lucinda Williams and Felix Cavaliere also sing) only compounds the lack of focus.

Sloan can still write catchy pop tunes, but "Sailover" has a patchwork feel. He needs to settle on a sound to make his comeback complete. (Steven Wine)

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Carrie Rodriguez, "Seven Angels on a Bicycle" (Train Wreck/Back Porch/EMI)

On her first three duet albums, Carrie Rodriguez played Bacall to Chip Taylor's Bogart.

Younger and less experienced, Rodriguez nonetheless provided a sultry, confident foil to Taylor's grizzled yet tender, middle-aged rake.

On her solo debut, "Seven Angels on a Bicycle," she maintains her steamy, self-contained persona. Although the fiddler-singer kicks up some dust on a couple of folk stomps, she mostly concentrates on material as languid and hypnotic as a 100-degree afternoon in her native South Texas.

Taylor remains a strong presence in her work. He co-produces the entire album and co-writes a healthy portion, and his solo contributions are sexually forward tunes with titles like " '50s French Movie" and "Dirty Leather."

The band also contributes mightily to the atmospheric tunes. Jazz guitarist Bill Frisell exerts his spare, mystical tone, and he brings his rhythm section of bassist Viktor Krauss and drummer Kenny Wolleson. Veteran lap steel player Greg Leisz, who's played with Fiona Apple and k.d. lang, adds to the mesmerizing resonance of the arrangements.

Rodriguez isn't a powerful singer, but her voice has a character few achieve. Rather than a support player taking a minor turn, she uses her first solo album to mark her ground as a singular talent. (Michael McCall)

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Danity Kane, "Danity Kane" (Bad Boy)

Sounds like the third time could be the charm for the folks behind "Making the Band."

In this latest version of "let's make a group on TV," pop culture maven Sean "Diddy" Combs spent the past couple of television seasons trying to put together a girl group. (That's after the rap outfit he put together on MTV imploded and O-Town, the boy band created by Lou Pearlman during the show's first incarnation, faded away.)

After a whole lot of competition, Aubrey, Aundrea, Dawn, D. Woods and Shannon were the last five standing, forming Danity Kane. Obviously somebody's learned from past mistakes, because they've actually got some talent and potential.

Diddy's taking no chances — he's called in a whole bunch of superproducers, including Timbaland and Rodney Jerkins, to work with the young ladies. And it pretty much pays off. While there are a few clunkers, and some clear filler, there are also some standouts.

The opening track, "One Shot," which was also the show's theme song, melds all of the women's voices with a strong, danceable beat. Other successful tracks are "Want It," "Hold Me Down" and the absolutely lovely ballad "Stay With Me."

Not quite so strong but still OK are "Right Now" (the meant-to-be-sexy breathing at the end? Ick. Stop trying so hard!) and the first single, "Show Stopper."

It's a double-edged sword, aiming at the attention of the MTV generation. The kids can love you to death but they move on quick. The women of Danity Kane have the skill — let's see if they can make the ride last. (Deepti Hajela)

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Previous BuzzCuts: New music from Christina Aguilera and Trace Adkins.