Common, "Finding Forever" (Geffen Records)
Wasting no time in repping the Chi (or "the go"), Common upholds the pedigree of true MCs by roundly dissing lames that hide onstage behind hype men screaming into mikes. He sweeps through the panoramic landscape of people of color in "The People" using meditative keyboard loops, with soul singer Dwele's atmospheric voice adding the right touch. As in the past, Common shares the honors with producer/artist Kanye West on the hard-hitting "Southside." Never losing control of his project, Common continues dropping knowledge on "The Game" behind a dirty pastiche of DJ Premier scratching over a chopped-up take of Sefyou Yohannes' "Tezeta."
"So Far to Go" offers a hauntingly sensual collaboration with the late underground producer, J Dilla. Dilla's penchant for unusual sampled material complements the easy inflections of featured Richmond singer D'Angelo, who sounds in fine form. The album may be a bit plodding in tempo to some, but it scores with a diverse range of sampled material and warms the heart with a more community-inspired, mellow feel than his previous effort. Kanye's upcoming album, "Graduation," better be up to the challenge. -- William Ashanti Hobbs
Deborah Cox, "Destination Moon" (Decca Records)
Deborah Cox's new offering, a tribute to Dinah Washington, comes off flat and gimmicky. Unlike the sounds of the troubled jazz diva, Cox's voice lacks the color, personality and the "it" factor that it takes to make standards shine. Her vocal stylings simply cannot ride the wave of the music: She struggles to stay afloat but quickly drowns under the hypnotic concoctions of sax, trombone, trumpet and flute the result of a 40-plus member in-studio orchestra.
There is one exception: On "New Blowtop Blues," where Cox's mezzo-soprano lilt soars to the stratosphere to join the likes of Billie, Ella and Dinah. But then it comes crashing back to earth with a thud on the next track. Truth be told, Cox has a beautiful voice this she has demonstrated with her earlier contemporary R&B offerings but unfortunately she lacks the originality of a Chrisette Michelle, Amy Winehouse or Jill Scott, which is what it would take to effectively deliver vintage soul with a fresh spin. Maree Morris
Tony Trischka, "Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular" (Rounder Records)
Tony Trischka has been on the cutting edge of bluegrass and its varied spinoffs newgrass, jazz-grass, and the like for years. Not as busy or full of notes as his acclaimed counterpart, Bela Fleck, Trischka has always dwelled more in melody and harmony, preferring to use cross-string rolls rather than the single-stringing so favored by his counterparts. Here, Trischka revives the art of double banjo composition on 14 tracks, featuring nine of the top banjo players currently performing.
The album begins with "Farewell Blues," featuring Earl Scruggs, arguably the father of the three-finger bluegrass approach to the five-string banjo. Other highlights include "Run Mountain," with young superstars Noam Pikelny and Chris Thile (Nickel Creek), and the two duets with comedian/actor Steve Martin, who has long been a serious proponent of the plunky instrument. By the end, this album is a celebration of both Trischka's long career and the three-finger banjo as a uniquely American creation. Josh Bearman
DVD: G.G. Allin & The Murder Junkies, "Hated" (MVD Visual)
Arguably the most shocking performer in the history of rock, frontman GG Allin was notorious for having no boundaries. While performing his sloppy, '70s-influenced punk rock, the singer would often be totally nude, bleeding and covered in his own feces, while physically assaulting his audience or attempting to rape female fans (which eventually sent him to prison for two years).
This disturbing, hour-long documentary from former New York University student Todd Phillips who went on to direct the comedies "Old School" and "Starsky & Hutch" builds briskly through riotous performance footage and candid interviews with the volatile Allin, his brother/handler Merle and other assorted scumbags. The young director does a fine balancing job with a difficult subject, an unsympathetic outlaw seemingly capable of murder (he even befriends serial killer John Wayne Gacy), who channeled his aggression into artistic pursuits though some would simply label them public S&M.
Always the purist, Allin believed he was the last true rocker. By the end, though, after countless hospital and jail stints, he was just another bloated cliché dead from a heroin overdose. Somehow, this short film manages to evoke a few moments of sympathy for the hard-knock life caused by Allin's all-consuming hatred of society which is not adequately explained in the film. But, hey, it's a student film with gutsy subject material. Brent Baldwin
No BS Brass Band, "Where Is Stefan?"
At its recent CD release party at The Camel, the No BS Brass Band had no problem riveting the attention of a capacity crowd. Led by trombonist Reggie Pace, the group combines the sonic punch of funk-rock with the traditional charms of a New Orleans marching band. The CD features its crowd-pleasing covers of Led Zeppelin's "Ocean" and the Yes hit "Owner of a Lonely Heart," which fit in well with the pedal-to-the-metal approach throughout.
The best advice for this CD is to play it loud. Subtlety is not the band's long suit; NBSBB thrives on chest-thumping, earwax-buzzing power. It just doesn't work on iPod headphones, and even on a good car system it sounds a bit deflated. But on a full home system with enough wattage, the force and the energy of the performance come close to being reconstituted (of course, like orange juice, once music this vital has been digitally frozen, it's never really fresh-squeezed again). See the band live and use this CD to shake your memory, or to spice up a party mix. Peter McElhinney
Scott Burton, "Solo Save One" (Gerund)
Also recorded by No BS drummer/engineer Lance Koehler, Burton's album is the polar opposite. When the Patchwork Collective founder/guitarist opened for NBSBB, his intricate playing drowned in a roar of chatter. On CD his appealing, Rubik's cube variations are far more easily appreciated. His focus on background charms rhythms, textures and harmonies make the recording more reflective than riveting. Play it after the party's over. P.M.