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SOUND CHECK.

Rakim/``The Master'' (Universal)

With former partner Eric B., New York rapper Rakim cut ``Paid in Full,'' a 1987 album that set new standards for rhyming, wordplay, scratching and sampling. Rakim's new solo platter continues the hard-core beats and intricate, smoothly delivered rhymes. Unfortunately, the playful quality that made earlier discs universally appealing is often missing on ``The Master.''

The lead single, ``When I B on Tha Mic,'' has a solid enough beat and catchy melody, but other tracks, including ``All Night Long'' and ``The Finest,'' suffer from the hollow boasting that is the worst cliche of the rap genre. But then, judging by the album's title, self esteem isn't one of our boy's problems.

Best of all, though, are the cuts ``It's the R,'' based on seamless snippets of James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and Pete Rock, and ``I'll Be There,'' a gem that builds on a Grover Washington piece. Three stars

- Fred Shuster

Wes Montgomery/``Live at Ronnie Scott's'' (DCC)

Sonny Stitt/``Live at Ronnie Scott's'' (DCC)

This recently unearthed live album travels back to 1965, when the great Montgomery made a rare overseas trip to London's famed Ronnie Scott's club. Backed by local jazzers on an entertaining set of ballads, swing and blues, the guitarist kicks off with ``Sonny Boy'' and his lush tone and lyrical solos on ``Wes' Easy Blues,'' ``Body and Soul'' and ``Solo Ballad in A Major'' makes this disc a welcome addition to the Montgomery catalog. Three stars

Stitt traveled some of the same musical paths as Charlie Parker. This 1964 set, also recorded at Ronnie's with a swinging local rhythm section, is a fine example of the saxophonist's energetic, freewheeling approach to bop and standards, including ``It Could Happen to You'' and ``Lady Be Good.'' As an added bonus, Jamaican guitar ace Ernest Ranglin is on hand, offering solid support on opener ``Ernest's Blues.'' Three stars

- F.S.

Third Eye Blind/``Blue'' (Elektra)

The Bay Area's tiresome Third Eye Blind sold millions of copies of its 1997 self-titled debut, thanks to the alterna-lite hits ``Semi-Charmed Life'' and ``How's It Going to Be.'' Then, painfully self-important frontman Stephan Jenkins started dating ``Devil's Advocate'' actress Charlize Theron, kicking off the 3EB backlash that was already gaining steam.

``Blue,'' the foursome's sophomore effort, aims for a harder, punchier sound, piling on the guitars and volume to try and win back the fickle alt-rock crowd. The disc contains the familiar punky songs, highlighted by the radio hit ``Anything,'' but nothing really sticks for long. One and one half stars

- F.S.

Yellowjackets/``Best Of'' (Warner Bros.)

The Yellowjackets, who are playing through Sunday at Catalina Bar & Grill, have been creatively exploring jazz and r&b sounds for nearly two decades. This compilation isn't a thorough retrospective (none of the band's fine MCA albums are covered), but it does offer a glimpse at their roots as a backing band for guitarist Robben Ford as well as their current funk-tinged, melodic work. Veteran drummer Peter Erskine, best-known for his work with Weather Report, has joined the band for its current tour. The evolution of this always interesting group continues. Three stars

- Glenn Whipp

Blondie/``Blondie Live'' (Beyond/BMG)

Cashing in on '80s nostalgia, Blondie's reunion tour this year was warmly received. This live set should appeal to those who attended, as it breathes life into ``Maria'' and four other tunes from the band's mediocre comeback album. Old favorites like ``Rip Her to Shreds,'' ``X Offender'' and ``Hanging on the Telephone'' also fare well here. Chanteuse Deborah Harry sounds great as always, although the bonus track remake of ``One Way or Another'' falls strangely short. Two and one half stars

- F.S.

Natalie Merchant/``Live in Concert'' (Elektra)

Pulled from the best of five New York shows in June, ``Live in Concert'' should please Merchant's many fans. Immediate standouts here include a delightfully loose seven-minute ``Carnival'' and an effective cover of David Bowie's ``Space Oddity.''

Merchant and her fine band have never sounded better than on ``Wonder'' and ``Ophelia,'' even though her reading of Neil Young's ``After the Gold Rush'' doesn't add much to the original. Three stars

- F.S.

The Simpsons/``Go Simpsonic With the Simpsons'' (Rhino)

Let's face it. Fox-affiliated stations can only show ``The Simpsons'' so many times a day. Fans need something to fill the down time and this wonderful compilation of the show's musical moments fits the bill nicely.

Like its classic predecessor, ``Songs in the Key of Springfield,'' this album showcases the brilliant work of series composer Alf Clausen and his delightful knack of spoofing various musical forms. Included are sendups of musicals, movies (``Mary Poppins'' and Bond themes) and commercials, each lovingly and lethally delivered. There are 53 cuts in all, and most of them, like the show itself, stand up to repeated listenings. A treasure. Four stars

- G.W.

Various/``Bob Marley: Chant Down Babylon'' (Tuff Gong/Island Def Jam)

Marley's ghost is put through its paces in this needless example of musical necrophilia. Using new technology, a dozen of the Rasta legend's songs are bolstered by new beats and superstar cameos from the likes of Lauryn Hill, Busta Rhymes, Chuck D., Rakim and Steven Tyler, who shouldn't have been allowed anywhere near this project.

``Chant Down Babylon'' does, however, have its moments, including r&b diva Erykah Badu covering ``No More Trouble'' and the Roots' take on ``Burnin' & Lootin'.'' Ultimately, the endeavor reeks of cash-in, but if it prompts a new audience to check out Marley's fabulous originals, the effort was worthwhile. Two stars

- F.S.

Metallica/``S&M'' (Elektra)

Taped in the Bay Area this spring, this grim 21-track, two-disc live set attempts to push the envelope by capturing hard rock icons Metallica backed by those friendly folks from the San Francisco Symphony.

The orchestra, conducted by composer Michael Kamen, saws away on such familiar Metallica nuggets as ``Enter Sandman'' and ``Master of Puppets,'' plus newies like ``No Leaf Clover,'' but no matter what the arrangement, James Hetfield's thunderous guitar and vocals always come dangerously close to drowning out the strings. Metallica apparently wanted to have it both ways - hire the symphony without monkeying around with the basic sound much. One and one half stars

- F.S.

CAPTION(S):

5 Photos

Photo: (1) no caption (Rakim)

(2 -- 5) no caption (CD covers)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Dec 3, 1999
Words:1052
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