Ashanti

‘Concrete Rose’

2 stars

The R&B songbird Ashanti has built a career on playing the romantic foil to macho rappers. With only a gentle coo, she turns hardened thugs like Fat Joe and Notorious B.I.G. into starry-eyed saps (on record, at least). But if her lackluster fourth album is any indication, Ashanti needed them more than they needed her.

Pleasant but indistinct, her girlish voice doesn’t convey enough personality to carry an entire song on its own, let alone a full-length record. Lusty come-ons (“Take Me Tonight”) and pledges of undying devotion (“Don’t Leave Me Alone”) melt into one endless late-night slow jam, inspiring snoozing rather than seducing.

“Concrete Rose” isn’t a total waste, though. Spirited guest appearances by rappers T.I. and Ja Rule give Ashanti some energy to bounce off of.

Maybe Ashanti’s next album should be all duets.

– Amy Phillips, Knight Ridder Newspapers

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott

‘The Lost Topic Tapes’

3½ stars

An acolyte and running buddy of Woody Guthrie’s and later an influence on Bob Dylan and many others, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott has enjoyed a long and colorful career as a well-traveled troubadour (although the “Ramblin’ ” moniker came from his conversational style).

These two albums of previously unreleased performances – subtitled “Cowes Harbour 1957” and “Isle of Wight 1957” – capture the Brooklyn-raised singer and cowboy in England at a time when he had just begun to enjoy success. Accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica and occasionally the “banjer,” Elliott is at his most engaging as he runs through a familiar collection of folk, blues, country and cowboy songs in an open-hearted style that mixes craggy seriousness with a frisky whimsicality – listen to the goofy sound effects he brings to Guthrie’s “Car Song.”

– Nick Cristiano, Knight Ridder Newspapers


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