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Listening Room: Fantasia, Tyrese and more
Fantasia, “Fantasia” (19/J) •••
Fantasia Barrino’s platinum 2004 debut, “Free Yourself,” ranks with Kelly Clark son’s “Breakaway” as the most surprising postshow outing from an “American Idol” champion — an album that showed there was actually more there than TV captured. The third-season “Idol” winner doesn’t lose any ground on her self-titled sophomore release, a 14-song set that mixes brassy sass with torchy New School R&B diva stylings, contemporary production touches and some choice samples of obscure soul matter. The overall effect hews close to Macy Gray’s fi rst album, but with heartier and more conventional vocals. Fantasia bangs it with the best of ’em on brassy groove tracks such as “Uneligible,” “I’m Not That Type,” the Swizz Beatz-produced “Surround U” and the sexy sway of “Baby Makin’ Hips”; she proves just as capable on the refreshing chickenscratch blues of “Bore Me (Yawn)” and on the opening “Hood Boy,” which features a rap from OutKast’s Big Boy atop a brass sample from the Supremes’ “The Happen ing.” When she slows things down, Fantasia comes off best on girl-power numbers like “Two Weeks Notice,” one of three Missy Elliott-produced songs, and “I Feel Beautiful,” an emotive piece penned by the dream team tandem of Babyface and Diane Warren. “Sunshine” is a little too trippy for the room and the libidinous “I Nominate U” seems out of character with the rest of the album. But the albumclosing “Bump What Your Friends Say” is a perfectly apt cautionary tale, from a single mom who has street smarts to go with her singing chops.
Tyrese, “Alter Ego” (J) ••
Tyrese Gibson has been busy in the four years since his last album — and not just in movies such “2 Fast 2 Furious” and the upcoming “Transformers.” On the music tip, he’s fashioned an ambitious two-CD set, one of smooth R&B songs and the other introducing Black Ty, his rap alter ego that he’s clearly more excited about. Give him props for pushing himself, but neither side of Tyrese rises above the level of confidence here. The sung disc is polished but somnolent, the kind of R. Kelly-styled pillow talk he can do in his sleep. The rap disc, meanwhile, suffers from a chip on his shoulder as Tyrese assumes his fans won’t accept Black Ty and therefore spends an inordinate amount of time defending that direction. The fact is he’s a perfectly fine MC but doesn’t quite measure up to the practiced rhyme skills of guests such as Snoop Dogg, The Game and Kurupt; it’s telling that the best track is “Ghetto Dayz,” a rap-sung collaboration that plays to his greatest strengths.
Like most two-CD sets, some judicious editing could have made “Alter Ego” a much more potent single disc, where the story would be more about the music than the personality.
New and noteworthy
Bushwick Bill, “Little Big Man (Chopped & Screwed)” (Asylum) — The Jamaican-born Houston rapper submits his 1992 debut to a sonic overhaul.
Mary J. Blige, “Refl ections — A Retrospective”
(Geffen) — The crown jewels from the Queen of Hip-Hip Soul.
Neil Diamond, “12 Songs (Deluxe Edition)”
(Columbia) — An expanded version of his lauded 2005 release, with song “sketches” and four extra tracks, including a version of “Delirious Love” with Brian Wilson.
Taylor Hicks, “Taylor Hicks” (RCA) — The latest “American Idol” champ’s debut features songs by Bryan Adams and John Mayer and pedal steel by Robert Randolph.
Richie Kotzen, “Into the Black” (Frontiers) — A new solo album from the former Poison and Mr. Big guitarist.
Original Cast Recording, “Spring Awakening”
(Decca Broadway) — Songs from the Broadway musical co-written by pop troubadour Duncan Sheik.
Soundtrack, “Charlotte’s Web: Music Inspired by the Motion Picture”
(Bulletproof) — A subtly faithbased set of songs by Amy Grant, Leigh Nash, Point of Grace, Billy Ray Cyrus and others.
Sonic Youth, “Destroyed Room: B-Sides and Rarities”
(Geffen) — The New York alternative rock heroes cobble together hard-to-fi nd material from compilations, vinyl singles and other sources.
Taking Back Sunday, “Louder Now (Expanded Edition)” (Warner Bros.) — The modern rockers’ gold-certified third album grows with four live tracks and a bonus DVD.
Young Jeezy, “The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102” (Corporate Thugz/Def Jam) — The Atlanta rapper follows his platinum 2005 debut with a slew of guests, including Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, R. Kelly, Timbaland, Three 6 Mafia and Keyshia Cole.
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