“Powerballin”‘

It’s hard to be humble when you’re a high powered rap baller, like the St. Louis-based Chingy. And while he makes party music with the best of them on his latest release “Powerballin’,” the rising star out of Ludacris’ production camp rapidly runs thin on substance.

At its best, “Powerballin”‘ is a background party album if you’re planning on a rump shaking affair. But in all truthfulness, despite guest appearances from Janet Jackson, R. Kelly, Lil Wayne and others, it’s a one-trick pony: a less-than-varied mix of big bass lines hoping to support Chingy’s platinum lifestyle rhymes about cars, girls and his self-described Git It Boys posse of hangers-on.

There are a few highlights. On “Give Em Some Mo,” Chingy says “Pop a bottle with me,” inviting the listener to enjoy the rich life with him from a front-row seat. This is one of the better tracks and employs some nifty production tricks like varied tempo speeds, as though a club DJ decided to drop his thumb on the platter and put the brakes on the song before releasing it to full speed again.

More songs like “I Do” and “We Clubbin”‘ would have kept this album on an even keel. Dance-worthy fun is what Chingy specializes in, like his previous rocket shot single “Right Thurr.”

He should leave the sordid pimp-life tales to others beneath him.

:- Ron Harris, AP Writer

Puffy AmiYumi

“Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi”

The self-described “super-cool cuties” from Japan, Puffy AmiYumi, are back with their fourth full album “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi,” primarily a rehashed greatest hits offering with only a smattering of new tracks.

The uber-precocious singing duo, Tokyo’s Ami Onuki and Osaka native Yumi Yoshimura, belts out most of their songs in shrill unison, with a tight backing band rocking all the while. They fearlessly romp through pop-rock songs without catching a breath. Like most sweeets, their music is fun in small doses, but too much can leave you aching.

“Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi Show Theme,” for example, is 100-mph girlishness about themselves performing before their legions of adoring young fans. Amid all the effervescence is a pretty raucous tempo that you can actually do a little guilt-free head-banging to.

The best track is “Friends Forever,” from the “Scooby-Doo 2” movie soundtrack. There’s hope and promise forever when the girls sing “You’ve got my back, pick up my slack when I can’t see/ But nothing picks me up like knowing we’ll be – friends forever.” You gotta love it.

But other tracks borrow too heavily from tried and true rock styles, and feel like copycat versions of better music, like the Beatles-esque “Forever,” a song not before released in the United States. Every little ‘60s guitar reverb on this track is a little too familiar, and too close to other artists for comfort.

Puffy AmiYumi has simply run out of ideas. Most of the tracks are from their previous albums and though the new theme songs are fun, but they’re not worth the price of a full album.

Puffy’s window of opportunity for true U.S. rock stardom may have just closed, if this album’s creative dead end is any indication.

Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks

For the uninitiated, a Dan Hicks CD typically provokes one of two responses:

• “What is THIS?”

• “What IS this?”

Yes, Dan’s discs are different, and that’s the fun. As usual, Hicks and the Hot Licks make silliness swing on “Selected Shorts,” a 14-cut set that includes guest appearances by Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett and Butthole Surfers singer Gibby Haynes.

“Shorts” is a guaranteed mood elevator that finds Hicks at the top of his game. Highlights include “Barstool Boogie,” a duet with Buffett about dancing in your seat; “That Ain’t Right,” which presents good behavior as an elusive goal; and “That’s The Smoke They’re Blowin’,” perhaps inspired by the recent political campaigns. Not as strong is a duet with Nelson on the ballad “One More Cowboy,” with the singers so unrehearsed and out of sync they cross the line from loose to sloppy.

That’s a rare misstep on a set featuring such familiar Hicks staples as jazzy fiddle and guitar, toe-tapping grooves and wispy female backup vocalists who serve as a kind of Greek chorus. “Selected Shorts” is the inviting sound of people having a good time.


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