Reviews of recent CD releases.
Fleetwood Mac - Say You Will (Warner Bros.): Fleetwood Mac has changed lineups many times over the years. Missing from its latest CD is Christine McVie, whose smooth keyboard and vocal work has always contrasted nicely with the raspy-voiced Stevie Nicks. McVie retired while the band was touring to promote its 1997 album, "The Dance." But Mac has too much talent to let her absence slow it down. Along with more songs that feature the bewitching Nicks, "Say You Will" also contains more of guitarist Lindsey Buckingham's inventive songwriting. End result: an edgier, more guitar-based CD than previous records, but with an overall sound that is trademark Fleetwood Mac. - Vic Roberts
Madonna - American Life (Warner Bros.): On her 10th studio album, Madonna dissects her 20-year career and takes an introspective look at her life. In the album's first single, "American Life," she raps that she has three nannies, an assistant, a driver, and a jet, "but do you think I'm satisfied?" She reveals in "I'm So Stupid," that she was stupid because she once wanted to be like all the pretty people. Later, on the moving "Mother and Father," she sings earnestly that when her mother died, all she did was cry. Madonna can play the guitar and sing beautifully through all the techno blips and bleeps and slower-moving songs. There's even a beautiful chorus in "Nothing Fails." But please, no more rapping. - Lisa Leigh Connors
Lisa Germano - Lullaby for a Liquid Pig (Ineffable/iMusic): Some people unburden their innermost thoughts in diary entries. Lisa Germano commits them to microphone. "These are your secrets/ hidden inside/ wherever you go/ wherever you hide," she sings on her fifth album, a record about loneliness and, frankly, using alcohol as a crutch. It's bleak all right, but there are glimmers of healing and a new self-awareness. Germano's music sparkles with piano, music boxes, and fairground organs - all accompanied by an undertow of grainy reverb and swirling static. Elsewhere, violins sound like whales murmuring from the depths. The overall effect is spectral but lovely. - Stephen Humphries
Les Nubians - One Step Forward (Higher Octave): It didn't take long for sisters Héléne and Célia Faussart to sing their way out of Bordeaux, France, with their 1998 debut "Princesses Nubiennes." All of Europe was transfixed. Americans weren't so easily won over, but the duo's second release is pushing its way to the top of the Billboard charts. With lyrics in French and English, the appearance of soulful rapper Talib Kweli, and a mixture of bossa nova, jazz, Afro-beat, and reggae, "One Step Forward" is a masterly harmony of sexy tenor and spiritual soprano. LN and C-Lia, as they are known, recorded in Jamaica, Cameroon, London, and Paris with African jazz legend Manu Dibango and classical musician Benjamin Biolay. The result: an elegance uncompromised by their earnest call for peace. - Elizabeth Armstrong
Lucinda Williams - World Without Tears (Highway): This is the second release by the alt-country songstress since she won her well-deserved Grammy in 1999. Since that time, she's broken off a longtime relationship and moved from Nashville to the sunny climes of southern California. The tone of this disc's unremittingly bleak lyrics suggests she brought along plenty of baggage. Lyrics such as "everything is wrong" and "you're a bad pain in my gut, I wanna spit you out" dominate all 13 songs, which are populated by drug-addled war vets, abused children, and unsavory ex-lovers. The endeavor has an unfinished, thrown-together vibe and its sluggish tempos are not helped by William's slurred, languorous delivery and banal rhymes. For hard-core Lucinda fans only. - John Kehe
Ms. Dynamite - A Little Deeper (Interscope): Already a mover and shaker in the world of Brit-hop, Ms. Dynamite is fast pushing her way into the American scene with pointed lyrics and raw, gritty rhymes. The 21-year-old is still growing into her fame, with a voice that teeters between forthright and bashful, and a message that manages to challenge without being confrontational. And, unlike many musicians cranked out of the hip-hop machine in recent years, this one isn't about to take her clothes off to seduce. Ms. Dynamite's real skill comes through in the raw immediacy of her message, which is at times muffled by melodies that err on the side of shifty and insecure, and a voice that borders on nasal and restrained. But "A Little Deeper" is, after all, her debut - and one of the most innovative and promising recordings to hit the streets this year. - E.A.
Chanticleer: A Portrait (Teldec Classics): This 12-member male vocal ensemble recently won a Grammy for its recording of "Lamentations and Praises," by Sir John Tavener. But a better introduction to Chanticleer, whose name means "clear singing," is this new 25th anniversary collection, which shows off the group's talents and versatility. From a Gregorian Chant to Mercer and Arlen's "Blues in the Night," Chanticleer proves that the human voice is truly the king of instruments. The countertenors are no less than angelic in "Love Is a Beautiful Thing" and bass Eric Alatorre stirs the soul with his solo turn on the spiritual "Wade in the Water." - Gregory M. Lamb