In the male-dominated world of hip-hop, Missy Elliott is a platinum anomaly: She has had five million-selling albums, produced and written hits for everyone from Aaliyah to Fantasia, shot eye-popping videos and even made a Gap commercial with Madonna
. As Elliott raps on "Joy," the first track on her sixth release, The Cookbook
, "Since '92 I came to win and never lose/They try to stop a chubby chick from coming through." But after 2002's excellent Under Construction
, which was nominated for an Album of the Year Grammy, she seemed to stall a bit on her last outing, 2003's This Is Not a Test!
The bad news: She's still slumping. There is nothing here that is as straight-up great as such past hits as "Get Ur Freak On" and "Work It." Her usual crazy energy is lacking. Perhaps that can be attributed to the fact that her longtime producer Timbaland worked on only two cuts. And there are a lot of slower, R&B-flavored numbers, including the Fantasia-assisted "4 My Man." Elliott's singing on some of these songs, though passable, won't cause Beyoncé to lose a wink of sleep.
Still, The Cookbook
offers some tasty fare, including the first single "Lose Control," a retro-'80s, "Planet Rock"-style electro workout; the percolating club banger "Partytime," which ingeniously samples the 1971 J. Geils Band song "Whammer Jammer"; and "Irresistible Delicious," a juicy pairing with old-school emcee Slick Rick.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Lose Control"
Wikked Lil' Grrrls
"I'm so sick and tired of the s—- on the radio," announces Esthero as she opens this disc with the thumping "We R in Need of a Musical ReVoLuTion." And with her wikkedly eclectic sounds on this protracted follow-up to her 1998 debut Breath from Another
, the Canadian chanteuse is a fresh alternative to such radio-ruling divas as Mariah Carey
, Ciara and Kelly Clarkson
. Any singer who alternately evokes Nelly Furtado, Pink and Sade—with a little Peggy Lee thrown in—is clearly spitting in the face of formulaic genre conventions. Esthero splices pop, hip-hop, R&B, jazz, electronica, Latin and spoken-word styles, among others, into a quirky-cool whole. The alluring "Blanket Me in You (Never Is So Soon)" interweaves classical piano and samba rhythms, while the horn-infused "Everyday Is a Holiday (With You)," cowritten by Sean Lennon, is whimsical Beatles-esque pop. Big band meets rap on the lusty come-on "If Tha Mood," and Esthero, with her natural jazz lilt, plays torchy seductress on "My Torture" and the lovely, Sade-like "Thank Heaven 4 You." Best, though, is the saucy title track, on which, against a swinging, clarinet-driven groove, she warns, "You better keep an eye on your boys and lock'em up tight!"
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Wikked Lil' Grrrls"
The Company We Keep
It's a good thing Del McCoury is a top-notch picker, because he's not much of a singer. At 66, he is attaining new levels of nasality, sounding more and more like a stereotypical bumpkin, even on the otherwise appealing gospel tune "I Never Knew Life." He doesn't cut it as a philosopher either. On "If Here Is Where You Are," McCoury sings, "If here is where you are, here is where you're s'posed to be," a feeble aphorism that sounds cribbed from the bumper of a '68 VW bus. But as a picker, McCoury is indeed in rare company, a fact that is especially evident on the instrumental "Seventh Heaven." His bluegrass virtuosity remains as stunning as ever. And he is complemented by the exceptional musicianship of his sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo) as well as fiddler Jason Carter. That kind of musicality compensates for a lot of other shortcomings.
Occasion: Connick on Piano, Vol. 2
Big and easy aptly describe this joyful collaboration between two of New Orleans's talented sons. Harry Connick Jr. is the Grammy-winning pianist, singer and actor with a fondness for pop hits of the mid-20th century. Saxophonist Branford Marsalis (Wynton's big brother) spent a few years with Sting, was Jay Leno's first choice to lead The Tonight Show
band and now runs his own music label. So what happened when Harry met Branford? In Connick's words, "a musical tête-à-tête."
Indeed, Occasion is a showcase and a showdown of musical thrust and parry. On "Spot" Connick strides along the keyboard, sending high notes trilling and bass chords bouncing to face a throaty tenor sax. Branford's crystalline soprano playing defines the elegiac "Chanson du Vieux Carre." Ever present are the blues like the sly, slow "Win" and its rival "Lose." With its lazy, good-time vibe, "Good to Be Home" typifies this matchup. For fans unaware of Connick's skills or Marsalis's range, Occasion
is an event to remember.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Good to Be Home"
COLDPLAY'S CHRIS MARTIN With Coldplay's new monster album, X&Y
, an upcoming tour and his marriage to Gwyneth Paltrow
, Chris Martin is this summer's It Brit.
1 Long before Coldplay sold 20 million albums worldwide (X&Y
went platinum in just two weeks), Martin, 28, enjoyed a prosperous upbringing in Devon, England. His family fortune comes from a trailer business. At University College London, he studied Greek and Latin.
2 Before meeting his wife, with whom he has a 1-year-old daughter, Apple, he was a virgin until age 21, partly because of his mom's advice, as he told Q: "She reckons waiting and committing leads to great sex."
3 Many of the words and symbols he scrawls on his hands refer to Make Trade Fair, an Oxfam campaign supporting Third World farmers. The colored tapes on his fingers "are there so people ask what it means," says Oxfam press officer Lys Holdoway, "then ask what the symbol means and that way you are lured into Make Trade Fair."
4 He has disdain for his record label: He recently complained about "the slavery that we are all under to shareholders" after EMI reported that its profits would be lower because X&Y
was delivered later than expected.
5 Despite such rants, he's not always that mopey. On a trip to Ghana with the Make Trade Fair campaign this January, he took Oxfam staffers clubbing—and then sang and danced with villagers (above).
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- Chuck Arnold,
- Ralph Novak,