Ol' Dirty Bastard, Richmond Fontaine, Basement Jaxx, Barbra Streisand

 Ol' Dirty Bastard
N****A Please

"This ain't no commercial song," yelps everyone's favorite Bastard on "Recognize [237K aiff]," the lead track here, and the same holds true for the disc as a whole. Rather, it's a trip to an insane asylum, with ODB as your willing -- and highly entertaining -- tour guide.

There are plenty of heavy hitters on N****A Please, including RZA, ODB's Wu-Tang Clan cohort, but that doesn't mean anyone's playing it safe. Far from it: The entire enterprise smacks of drug-fueled spontaneity. Take "I Can't Wait," in which: 1) The show's star greets Miami and California before busting into a fevered chant of "Big baby Jesus/I can't wait/Nigga fuck that/I can't wait"; 2) An obviously well-informed woman calls the rapper "a fuckin' nut case"; 3) The song comes to a grinding halt at its midpoint before picking up in the same place a moment later; and 4) Our hero gives shout-outs to Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eskimos, submarines, all four branches of the armed services, the women and babies of the world, himself and the Brooklyn Zoo. There's also a completely twisted rendition of Rick James's "Cold Blooded" (ODB kindly thanks James for letting him cover it), plus "Got Your Money" (featuring the strangely logical couplet "I don't have no trouble with you fucking me/But I have a little problem with you not fucking me"), " Rollin' Wit You," which warns "y'all colored, bitch-ass, faggot, punk-ass motherfuckers" that "these white people tryin' to take over your shit," and "You Don't Want to Fuck With Me," a title that ODB wants all the ladies in the house to know doesn't apply to them. "I don't answer phones! I'll never reveal the Wu-Tang secrets!" he declares in the last tune, as if anyone could understand what on earth he's babbling about in the first place.

Olí Dirty Bastard
N****A Please
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Title of Record

Those eager to be offended will be more than satisfied by "I Want Pussy," a ditty that finds ODB repeatedly singing the line "I want pussy...for free" like someone who's just discovered a secret stash of nitrous oxide. But his approach is so unbelievably loopy that most people will be laughing too hard to e-mail any complaints to Tipper Gore. N****A Please may be the least disciplined, most blatantly wacky hip-hop disc ever put out by a major label, and that's precisely what's good about it. Pray that ODB stays out of jail long enough to make another one just like it. -- Michael Roberts

Richmond Fontaine
Lost Son
(Cavity Search)

Though the members of Richmond Fontaine eschew being grouped with other alternative-country bands, were you to place them there anyway, they'd certainly rank among the better ones. The Portland, Oregon, outfit (scheduled to play Tulagi in Boulder on Thursday, October 14, and the 15th Street Tavern on Friday, October 15) makes music that sharply recalls No Depression-era Uncle Tupelo (perhaps the greatest alt-country band, but one that didn't like the label, either). Like that fabled album, the music on Lost Son alternates with equal success between wistful country laments and a brand of punk tinged with pedal steel that's brimming with frustration and small-town alienation. It's no accident that the eleven tracks have the feel of self-contained short stories: The name Richmond Fontaine comes from a character in lead singer Willy Vlautin's fiction, which, if it's anything like the band's music, tends toward the darkly themed, slice-of-life realism of Raymond Carver. Each of these songs features as a protagonist the sort of guy with bad luck and shaky hands who's destined for misfortune ("Pinkerton," "Muddy Conscience") and frequently finds it ("Cascade"). In fact, Lost Son evokes an overall bleakness that is fabulously matched by Vlautin's thin croak of a voice. If that sounds less than compelling, it isn't. This approach first worked beautifully in "Give Me Time," the standout track from Fontaine's last album, Miles From, and a certified underground classic. It's ably matched here by "Contrails" and much of Lost Son. Vlautin's litany of woe is accompanied throughout by flourishes of pedal steel, which are by turns yearning and wistful and add an intoxicating element to the ragged, plainspokenness of Vlautin's lyrics. They flesh out the sound and add depth to these sorrowful tales. To seize on a metaphor, you might think of them as the subtext in a good work of fiction. -- Joshua Green

Basement Jaxx
(Astralwerks/XL Recordings)

Basement Jaxx are part of a new breed of house musicians -- those ready to capitalize on radio's sudden willingness to explore a new genre. Radio has recently budged a fraction of a millimeter to accommodate a style of music that was never meant to be heard over the airwaves -- or in any context but a late-night, fucked-up-in-a-dark-hot-stinky-room-with-a-lot-of- people-equally-out-of-their-heads experience. Yet the bulk of the mainstream radio audience still demands an accessible sound to wrap its ears around, rather than the transitory and ethereal experience that represents house music at its finest. It takes a special intelligence to be able to straddle both worlds, and Basement Jaxx have it. They are house musicians who are ready to become rock stars. And if that sounds like an insult or a backhanded compliment, it isn't. It takes guts to try to be a pop star, and the Basement Jaxx couldn't pull it off if they weren't good.

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