Spins

Lady Sovereign, John Legend, David Binney, Blanche

Public Warning

LADY SOVEREIGN

Def Jam

It's awesome that non-American rappers are showing up stateside with fresh beats and rhymes. The success of artists like The Streets and M.I.A. is proof that hip-hop has conquered not just the South Bronx, not just the U.S, but the world too. And now you can add Public Warning, the debut album by 20-year-old Brit MC Lady Sovereign, to that list of successes. Her debut single, "Love Me Or Hate Me," has even conquered that most conservative of pop music bastions, TRL.

That level of popularity is a bit of a surprise, considering that Lady Sov's shtick is an open — and welcome — slap to the face of the oversexed, image-obsessed world of mainstream hip-hop and R&B. Lyrically, she's at her funniest when she aims her snark at just this target.

The opening track "9 to 5" is a tale of Sov's debilitating laziness, with some sharp comments on the major-label game: "So my label have changed my image/ I'm a pink-lipstick chick called 'Dipstick'/ This ain't on my wish list, oh shit/ I'm in FHM posing in a bikini next to a Lamborghini/ Next up the theme tune for tweenies."

The aforementioned "Love Me" treads similar water. The 5-foot-1 Sov calls herself "officially the biggest midget in the game" before running down her aesthetic deficiencies: "I ain't got the biggest breast-ies/ But I write all the bestest hits/ I got hairy armpits, but I don't walk around like this/ I wear a big, baggy T-shirt that hides that nasty shit."

While I'm certainly glad that Americans are accepting Lady Sov's sound and anti-image, Warning cannot be called a sonic pioneer. If you've encountered even a smidgen of U.K. grime, then you've heard the bone-basic beats and '80s-video-game synths that make up the foundation of this release. Lady Sov skates by with her wit and self-deprecation, but it's tough to call this album a breakthrough in any but the commercial sense. 3 stars —Cooper Levey-Baker

Once Again

John Legend

Columbia

Old fart alert (consider yourself warned): If John Legend is, as I've heard, this generation's answer to Stevie Wonder, then this generation is in trouble. When "Save Room," the best song on a Top 5 album like Once Again is a cop of a 1968 Classics IV hit "Stormy" (at least the original writers got a credit), then that doesn't speak all that well of this generation either. I find Legend's music particularly tepid, his voice lacking in distinctive soul power. The faux bossa of "Maxine" and overwrought ballad "Coming Home" call to mind Barry Manilow more than Stevie. There's nothing particularly objectionable on Once Again, but then there's nothing all that exhilarating either. 2 stars —Eric Snider

Cities and Desire

DAVID BINNEY

Criss Cross Jazz

On Cities and Desire, alto saxophonist David Binney has concocted a suite of pieces, each evocative of a city that's familiar to him: Lisbon, New York, Miami, L.A., Rome, et al. It's quite the beguiling travelogue. The 45-year-old artist was raised on contemporary pop music as well as jazz, so his rhythmic conception eschews strict bebop orthodoxies in favor of rock-based feels; but don't mistake the grooves for Bonham-esque bashing; they range from supple funk to pulse-like abstractions to tricky time signatures. This alone separates Cities and Desire from the acoustic-jazz pack, but it's the improvisational brilliance of three principals — Binney, tenor man Mark Turner and pianist Craig Taborn — that's the ultimate drawing card. The saxophonists, kindred spirits who can play pensive, probing notes as easily as breathtaking cascades, build solos with dramatic flair. Add in Binney's collection of sophisticated but accessible compositions, and we're left with a jazz release that's genuinely special. (crisscrossjazz.com) 4 stars —Eric Snider

What This Town Needs EP

BLANCHE

V2

Detroit's Blanche dirtied up front-porch country traditions with some Motor City lo-fi grit to critical acclaim with their '04 debut. Filled out by a Stones cover ("Child of the Moon"), demo and live track, this five-song EP smacks of stopgap measure-dom. Its title tune and "Scar Beneath The Skin" once again score, though, with twangy, cow-punky sodbuster spunk and interesting arrangements. 3 stars —Scott Harrell

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