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Published: Sunday, 12/25/2005

CD reviews: British duo Floetry find a new niche in hip-hop

British duo Floetry touch a chord seldom explored in hip-hop. Through their rhymes, songs, and harmonies, Floacist - Natalie Stewart, who raps - and Songstress - Marsha Ambrosius, who sings - allow the listener to see them as strong yet vulnerable, nurturing women.

In the masculine world of hip-hop, where female rappers tend to take on a hard persona or one of being a playa, it is rare to find artists who present themselves so openly. And for that reason, many hip-hop listeners may not like "Flo'Olegy."

At times, the two sound almost sappy, as on "Feelings," which is like a love letter by a confused high-schooler to her boyfriend. But at their best, as on the hit single "SupaStar," featuring Common, they are uplifting to men.

Rather than male-bashing, or lamenting how men have done them wrong in relationships, they speak of men as being their strength, which they nurture. And on the aptly named "My Apology," the duo apologize for hurting the men they love.

These themes are covered by other hip-hop artists, but not with Floetry's level of vulnerability.

Hip-hop is built on a foundation of rappers bragging and boasting about being the best, the hardest, the richest, the most gangsta, etc. But being vulnerable, particularly from the female perspective, is rarely explored.

Many listeners may be uncomfortable with this and view Floetry as soft. But the duo's choice of style and subject matter shows that these women know who they are and won't allow the industry to dictate what kind of material they present.

That's as real as it gets.

- STEWART WALKER

No matter how many other benefit albums will result from the devastation wrought upon New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina and, to a lesser extent, Hurricane Rita, you can't go wrong with any of these three discs.

On "Our New Orleans 2005" producers caught some of the biggest names from pre-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans at the top of their game in all of their post-hurricane fervor. A special treat is hearing famed pianist Allen Toussaint recast Henry Roeland "Professor Longhair" Byrd's uptempo "Tipitina" into a minor key and backbeat rhythm.

"Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents Higher Ground" is an abbreviated, 78-minute excerpt from a Sept. 17 benefit concert that featured some of the biggest names in jazz - including Toledo's own Jon Hendricks, whose politically infused bossa nova song, "Tell Me the Truth," was unfortunately one of the items left off the album.

One of the more tender moments that did make the CD is the traditional New Orleans funeral dirge "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" performed by trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, whose father was reported among the missing after Katrina.

The Dr. John album is a warm and earthy 25-minute extended play ditty that opens and ends with a simple song called "Clean Water," an environmental call-to-action for cleaning up the world's polluted waters.

- TOM HENRY

Blige's 16-track seventh disc is, in her words, about being herself and choosing to be happy. It's also about soul, the tracks riding on bottom-heavy arrangements with the bass and drums pumping the speakers, contrasting with Blige's nicely smooth vocals, whether she is emoting on the opening "No One Will Do" and first single "Be Without You," or fusing soul and hip-hop. Though she uses a number of different producers and guest artists, the disc has a unified sound as Blige delivers positive, empowering messages, offers advice, or tells her own story.

- RICHARD PATON

The hottest music act in Asia's gimmick is simple. Take 12 attractive, classically trained musicians playing authentic, ancient Chinese instruments, but instead of traditional melodies, introduce modern music. This means a bit of pop, classical, jazz, and contemporary world music. The result is positively startling. For a touch of updated sounds, a couple of electronic keyboards and modern percussion fill it all out, making the results lush, exotic, and fresh. "Romantic Energy" is a two disc, CD/DVD package.

- KEN ROSENBAUM

It was a bad idea in the first place, made worse by this release: Take a once popular, and good, band whose charismatic, irreplaceable lead singer died and use an American Idol-like reality show to find his replacement. J.D. Fortune was the lucky one who survived the TV show contest to front INXS, the Australian band that has been lead singer-less since Michael Hutchence committed suicide in 1997. The result on "Switch" is a bland reminder of just how much sensuality and earthy funk Hutchence could deliver. Fortune's desultory approach only makes you miss him more.

- ROD LOCKWOOD



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