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Published: 1/9/2005

CD reviews: NAS shows he's a master of his craft

NAS has been one of the most popular rappers for the last decade, and has remained true to his roots: slick rhymes over uncomplicated beats.

"Street's Disciple" continues in this tradition with what is easily one of NAS's best efforts. More than anything, he is a master lyricist/poet/story-teller. Somehow, he is able to convey experiences from his life in a way that the listener can feel and relate to. That's why he is so respected.

Further, NAS clearly has respect for those artists and other elders who came before him, and he pays homage to some of them on "U.B.R. (Unauthorized Biography Of Rakim);" "Virgo," which features Ludacris along with Doug E. Fresh, and the hit single "Bridging the Gap," on which he pays tribute to his father and traces the roots of hip-hop back to the blues.

Clearly this project is a work of inspiration. NAS believes that his craftwork can inspire and change lives, unlike many in the rap game. The seriousness with which he approaches his craft extends to the musical production.

Tracks such as "Rest Of My Life" and "Reason" are almost smooth jazz in their sound, with melodic musical and vocal chords, overlaid by NAS's masculine lyrics. "Bridging the Gap" is a fusion of hip-hop and the legendary blues song "The Greatest Man Alive."

NAS has always been considered one of the more socially conscious rappers in the game, as well as one of its top lyricists. "Street's Disciple" not only reaffirms this, but raises the bar.

- STEWART WALKER

"Real Gone," a supremely strange collection of murder ballads, creaky blues, and beat wisdom, is just the latest example of Waits' genius. As usual, rhythm and lyrics are at the core of the songwriter's work with the junkyard blues of "Top of the Hill" getting good and funky, featuring turntable scratching from his son, Casey. "Sins of My Father" has a jazzy feel as it unravels its epic, apocalyptic, 10-minute tale. And on it goes over 16 songs as Waits spins out oddball narratives leavened by his generous spirit and relentless humanity.

- ROD LOCKWOOD

American standards never go out of style, and when it comes to interpreting great songs with flair and panache, there are few so capable as Tony Bennett. The voice is familiar, of course, but hearing it never grows old. On this 11-track disc, Bennett sings the work of Johnny Mercer, Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, Django Reinhardt with Bennett's own lyrics, and Stephen Sondheim. Backed by a core quartet, and produced by Phil Ramone, Bennett's sound is smooth and sophisticated, as befits a master of his craft.

- RICHARD PATON

This new motion picture soundtrack and the original, two-disc London cast recording both capture the classic opera's dramatic flair. The movie offers a soundtrack with arguably just a slightly more uptempo sound. But it's not a sound that veers off Webber's delicate musical path or makes unnecessary compromises in its quest to be a little more modern. Although this release of the movie soundtrack is only a single disc, Sony Classical also has released an extended, two-disc deluxe edition for real Phantom fans.

- TOM HENRY

This album features the biggest stars of today playing traditional tunes in homage to the legends of the genre. Then it mixes in performances by a couple of those legends - Ralph Stanley and Earl Scruggs. The 15-song package was done live, and sizzling performances are turned in bluegrass artists at the top of their game, such as Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Alison Krauss and Union Station, and Nickel Creek. The two group finales, especially the fiery and familiar "Rawhide," by themselves are worth the album's price.

- KEN ROSENBAUM



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