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Published: Sunday, 4/24/2005

'Naturally' may be an instant classic

Sure, it's shamelessly retro, but there is no denying that "Naturally" is a rare gem of a release: old-school soul music offered up with a righteous purity.

Jones and the Kings, a nine-person unit from Brooklyn that features a horn section, channels everyone from Otis Redding to James Brown and even Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes as it locks into grooves that never let up. More Stax/Volt than Motown, the band's sound reflects a joyous appreciation for everything from the blues, gospel, and jazz to, most often, sweet soul music.

Somewhere in the '70s, 'round about the time disco ruined everything, unpolished rhythm and blues fell out of favor with the music industry and was traded in for slick and formulaic R&B. Acts like the O'Jays and the Temptations had grown stale, Al Green found God and stopped making secular music, and Marvin Gaye was trying hard, but fighting a losing battle.

Since then, only occasionally has an artist come along to carry the torch, and Sharon Jones is one of them. Her voice is a flexible instrument that can ride on top of the groove on speedier boogies like "My Man is a Mean Man," belt powerfully on the irresistible funk of "Natural Born Lover," or sing a perfectly seductive ballad like "All Over Again."

The killer cut - and every disc like this has to have one - is the cover of "This Land Is Your Land." The Woodie Guthrie classic has never received this kind of treatment, funked-up as an R&B workout that calls out the tune for what it always was in its original form: a hard-working protest song.

Every now and then a disc comes along that begs to be listened to over and over. This is one of them.

- ROD LOCKWOOD

The former lead singer of B2K, Omarion steps out on his own with a collection of smooth ballads and hot R&B. Despite using several different producers, the disc has a cohesive sound over its 13 tracks, even as Omarion easily moves from the slower "I'm Tryna," "Growing Pains," and "I'm Gon' Change," with luxurious harmonies and understated arrangements to more uptempo songs like "Take It Off." And throughout he displays a voice of a quality that belies his age - 20.

- RICHARD PATON

There is a deceptive beauty and sultry appeal to the low-key voice of multi-faceted Lea Delaria, whose talents go well beyond that of incredible jazz singer to include stand-up comic and Broadway actress. Imagine Blondie's "Call Me" and "Been Caught Stealing" by Jane's Addiction redone with cool jazz rhythms and backbeats, augmented by Delaria's seemingly plain, but deep and moving vocals. What seems like an enormously risky project comes off sounding so calm, collected, and natural. Delaria's not flashy, but has a knack for getting under your skin with just the right swing and sway in her voice.

- TOM HENRY

Half traditional blues and half electric blues-rock is an apt description of the sizzling style of music Thackery has made for more than 30 years. With not-too-obvious roots in the Delta blues, Thackery and his backup band, the Drivers, lay on some hard-driving chops. The 11 numbers are an intriguing mix, drawing from most blues elements, with the ever-present feel of rock in each. Thackery's voice may not be the best around, but he seems to put his heart into his lyrics as he wrings all the emotion possible out of his blues-rock selections.

- KEN ROSENBAUM

Soul singer Ricky Fante opens this soundtrack with an inspirational

song called Shine.

After that, the album s a mixed bag of so-so hip-hop, followed

by pop rock with average lyrics and unimaginative chord progressions, then head-spinning dance music. It s a rare feat for

the music industry a letdown for a blockbuster fi lm . T.H.

Carter, missing from the top of the country music scene for several years after she scored four No. 1 hits, including Strawberry Wine,

on her fi rst album 10 years ago, wrote, produced, played guitars,

and sang on all 11 of these originals.

It s an insightful look back at some of her experiences in

relationships and motherhood, and it s mighty fi ne music all the

way.

K.R.



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