Jazz Lee Alston
Jazz Lee Alston
(Rhyme Cartel/American)

The attention-getter here is "Love...Never That," based on a poem Alston wrote in honor of her cousin Jacqueline Alexander, who was shot to death two days after Christmas 1992, while Alston was visiting. (Alexander's estranged husband, Paul, is wanted for the crime but has thus far eluded capture.) But while the track is a plainspoken and chilling portrait of a marriage from hell ("My man loved me so much/He left me when I was eight months pregnant"), it's hardly the only reason this EP grabs you by the spine and won't let go. Alston has far more than a way with words: She's also an aural actress who gets so deep into character it's surprising she ever escapes. For instance, "Glass Dick," in which she portrays a crack addict so desperate for one more rock that she offers to blow her supplier, achieves a hyper-realistic pathos that makes the average rapper's street gab seem utterly tepid, while "Me, Myself & I" is a moody, deliberate set piece that equates independence and masturbation. This isn't what you'd call easy listening, but thanks to the production of Sir Mix-A-Lot, Ricardo Frazer and Rick Rubin, the seductive, cool-jazz backdrops suck you into Alston's world. It's a place you'll be eager to visit again. If you survive your first trip, that is.--Michael Roberts

Massive Attack

Anyone who doubts that a single album could practically obliterate the need for additional CDs in your disc changer should listen to Massive Attack's second release. An eclectic, ten-track assemblage of urbane style, protection finds the three core Attackers supplemented by sidemen often cast in starring roles. As a result, each song achieves a singularity that is as much Massive Attack as it is not. Contrasts are everywhere: For example, "Sly," a slithery ambient track that owes much of its serpentine grace to guest vocalist Nicolette's deliciously smooth speak-singing, is juxtaposed with "Karmacoma," featuring male rappers and a dancehall pace that will enchant all but the most rhythmless listeners. But the disc's strengths stretch far beyond the band's attention to different voices--Massive Attack can also groove, and it does so here with abandon. Perhaps the act's most surprising achievement can be found in its version of the too-often-covered "Light My Fire," which is freshened by the mating of its familiar structure with a relentlessly thumping beat. The result is less a typical cover than a song-length sample culled from pop-cultural history--as well as another delicious course from protection's banquet.--Justin McLean


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