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Picks and Pans Review: Peace Beyond Passion

updated 07/01/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/01/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Me'Shell Ndegéocello

Me'Shell Ndegéocello isn't just another chocolate-colored songbird with a sweet love song in her heart. She made that perfectly clear on her 1993 breakout single, "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)." Now the bisexual singer-songwriter clenches her fists even tighter as she rails against homophobia, racism and other social ills on her second collection of postcards from pop music's cutting edge.

R&B hasn't produced such an iconoclastic talent since Prince, though Peace more resembles the inner-city blues of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On; While Ndegéocello's rumbling bass lines dominate the CD's sociopolitical first half, her rich alto, with its husky shades of Tracy Chapman and Anita Baker, soars on the subsequent state-of-the-heart tracks "Mary Magdalene" and "Who Is He and What Is He to You."

Unfortunately, Ndegéocello's ambition sometimes gets the best of her. "Leviticus: Faggot" describes with bone-chilling poignancy the fallout from a gay child's coming out ("His mother would pray/ Save him, save him, save him from this life"), but the title's clumsy biblical invocation both puzzles and puts off. And the woozy cadences of her spoken-word passages sometimes make them indecipherable. Still, Ndegéocello rewards a listener's extra effort. Amid so much sound-alike soul, she's a rarity who refuses to pledge allegiance to the same old groove. (Maverick/Reprise)

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