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ME'SHELL NDEGeOCELLO: BITTER (Maverick)

Me'Shell Ndegeocello has reason to be bitter. She should be one of the biggest names in black music by now, instead of just one of the longest. Her debut album, 1994's Plantation Lullabies, received four Grammy nominations and its follow- up, 1996's Peace Beyond Passion, had more ideas than it knew what to do with. It was a powerful concoction of hip-hop, jazz, world music, grinding funk and "rhythmic talking". The songs' names alone - "Deuteronomy: Niggerman", "Leviticus: Faggot" - were a testament to how much the singer-songwriter-bassist had to say. On her third album, Ndegeocello has shelved the meditations on religion and racism and concentrated on her other main topic, sexual relationships. And as the title might imply, her view is hardly positive. "No one is faithful," she tells us. "He loves with sincerity and sweetness/While she can only pretend." The twist is that these unromantic sentiments are entwined in music that could have been composed with seduction in mind. Mostly acoustic and almost free of samples or programming, Bitter floats along on a tide of strings, brushed drums, acoustic guitars and delicate piano. Alas, while the album is not short of maturity and class, it is short of phrases and melodies memorable enough to stop it slipping smoothly into the background. A bitter Ndegeocello is not as interesting as an angry, passionate, questioning one.

NICHOLAS BARBER

CLASSICAL

BRAHMS: GERMAN FOLKSONGS (Teldec)

Stephan Genz is the new, young, German lyric baritone about the Lieder scene: not so intense or dark of voice as Matthias Goerne and perhaps too manicured for some tastes, but with a silken charm that counteracts his worrying onstage resemblance to Bob Monkhouse. He's ideally suited to these Brahms songs, which are artful reworkings of folk originals and accordingly a kind of hybrid repertory - rather like the folksong realisations that Britten carried out a half a century or so later. On the one hand, you hear where they've come from. And on the other, you sure know into whose lap they've fallen - for all Brahms's attempts at fabricated rustic innocence. Genz has their measure and delivers them with clear conviction. And his pianist, Roger Vignoles, makes an ideal partner: thoughtful and supportive.

MICHAEL WHITE

DANCE

APOLLO FOUR FORTY: GETTING HIGH ON YOUR OWN SUPPLY (Epic)

Imagine that a friend with indiscriminate musical tastes makes you a compilation tape. It includes lots of heavy metal (Status Quo, Led Zeppelin and Extreme Noise Terror), some ragga, early Beastie Boys, surf music, John Barry, and the obligatory Prodigy, Fatboy Slim and Chemical Brothers. Now imagine the tape is damaged and everything gets scrambled together. That's what Getting High ... sounds like. Much of it is close to the border between infectious and irritating. When it works, it sounds like a happy accident: "Heart Goes Boom" alternates between smiley reggae and super-fast ragga; "The Perfect Crime" strikes a good balance between surf music and drum'n'bass. These are funny, exciting, danceable songs. But far too much of this album depends on a heavy-metal guitar plus drum-loop formula. I can't be the only one who thought Radio One's ban on Status Quo had been lifted when the station played "Stop The Rock". And the prog-rock guitar solo on "The Machine in the Ghost" is not clever, ironic or funny; it's just plain horrible. But if you skip that, you've got a fun party album which all sounds quite familiar and will get everyone playing air-guitar on the dancefloor.

LAURENCE PHELAN

JAZZ

TERRY CALLIER: LIFETIME

(Talkin' Loud)

Last year's TimePeace album successfully resurrected the career of this 54-year-old folk-meets-jazz-meets-soul singer-songwriter who had given up making music professionally in the 1970s. The follow-up more or less takes the same pattern as its predecessor, but that's to be expected. Callier's marvellously sweet and soulful voice produces a high tingle-factor on a series of mainly laid-back grooves, and the slower the tempo the better he sounds. Three songs in particular - "When My Lady Danced", "Where a Lark Is Singing", and a duet with Beth Orton on "Love Can Do" - are so good they make you feel slightly ashamed that Callier has had to wait this long to get his due. The few up-tempo numbers are less alluring, however, and once you fail to be drawn into his dreamy spell, the preachy peace and love lyrics begin to grate a bit. Taken as a whole, LifeTime is half a very good album. As there aren't many Terry Callier albums about, that's not such a bad deal as it sounds.

VARIOUS ARTISTS: MESSING AROUND PRESENTS ROOT DOWN

(Verve)

You can tell a record company is desperate when they slap a sticker on the cover saying "Features tracks sampled by the Wiseguys, Fatboy Slim, the Beastie Boys". But it's hard not to warm to this would-be hip compilation of old groovers. The context is meant to recall Saturday night jams at Camden's Jazz Cafe, when the Jazzcotech dancers strutted their stuff to bygone jazz and funk. But really it's a trawl through the vaults, mixing cheese by Lalo Schifrin and Herb Alpert with bop from Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell, funk by the JBs, Latin from Willie Bobo and soul from Gladys Knight. As such, it's very good indeed and the CD equivalent of a friend's intermittently inspired party tape.

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