Talib Kweli "Liberation" (Stones Throw Records)
Of the two members of Black Star, Mos Def certainly gets more recognition than Talib Kweli. But while his artistic forays are not as genre-expansive as Mos Def's, Kweli possesses the quiet, consistent quality that solidifies his place under the banner of engaging, conscious lyrics.
"Liberation" adorns this foundation with the understated, spontaneous feel of a mix tape, thanks to Cali's unsung Madlib at the controls. The track "Soul Music" calls one and all to a meditative journey paved by such greats as Marvin Gaye, while "Happy Home" kindles an urge to go through the pages of old family photo albums with reverence.
"The Function" brings the grit just as "Time Is Right" forces amateurs to press repeat for a clinic on the basics. Madlib aptly proves all left-coast producers are not sentenced to a life of rehashed G-funk chords. Talib, as always, delivers. The nine-song "Liberation" feels like an album stripped of the excessive skits and needless collaborations that inflate the average hip-hop offering. **** Willie Hobbs
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Lily Allen "Alright, Still" (Capitol Records)
Lauryn Hill gave the world the archetype of the soulful rapper/singer with her revered debut in 1998, and although she's since wandered from this concept, many artists have tried to follow her blueprint. Now, UK bad girl Lily Allen has taken the plans and twisted them to fit her post-hip-hop image.
Her new CD is laced with songs of revenge, rejection and lost love, all in the company of Allen's acidic wit. On her debut single, "Smile," she relishes the suffering of a former lover, his sadness strengthening her resolve. On "LDN," she raps about what lies beneath the sunny skies of London: "Everything seems to look as it should/But I wonder what goes on behind doors/A fella looking dapper, but he's sitting with slapper/Then I see it's a pimp and his crack-whore."
Allen's brash delivery is backed by flawless production alongside deft interpolations of rare reggae tracks and obscure samples. Not since the rise of Culture Club has a UK act appropriated the reggae sound to fit the pop music mold so convincingly. While she might not give wordsmiths like Eminem sleepless nights, Allen's lyrical skill easily eclipses the rudimentary tendencies of the rappers crowding today's radio playlists. The next great white rapper? Maybe not. Still, it's much better than just "Alright." **** Craig Belcher
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DVD: Bob Dylan "Don't Look Back: 65 Tour Deluxe Edition" by D.A. Pennebaker (Docurama)
Forty years ago, D.A. Pennebaker made a music documentary for the ages. It was a fly-on-the-wall black-and-white film chronicling the popular 1965 England tour of 23-year-old Bob Dylan, his last tour as a solely acoustic performer.
The film has since joined the culturally significant works in the National Film Registry, but at the time, critics were divided between those who saw it as a boring window into egomania and others who considered it a brilliantly subtle look at fame in the media spotlight.
I always thought it was a little of both, but essential viewing nonetheless for any Dylan fan. Now comes the definitive "65 Tour Deluxe Edition," which features two discs: the original film digitally remastered with illuminating commentary from Pennebaker and tour manager Bob Neuwirth, plus another disc culled from more than 20 hours of unused footage.
The new material is noteworthy for the haunting musical performances of Dylan in his prime (several uncut performances are added, including a beautiful "To Ramona" and "Baby Blue"), plus additional scenes of Dylan on piano and young fans in awe of their frizzy- haired pied piper.
Hard-core Dylanites will appreciate the handsome collectible packaging, which includes a 168-page book transcription of the film as well as a thumb-sized animation flipbook of the legendary "Subterranean Homesick Blues" sequence believed by many to be the first music video. Whether it's all worth the $50 price tag is another matter. Those interested in the original feature only can purchase it separately for $20 when it's reissued Feb. 27. ***** Brent Baldwin