If the word "mambo" conjures up anything at all in an age when the most popular forms of dance are "line" and "slam," it is probably some kind of slightly silly, Ricky Ricardoesque vision. There might be a couple of ladies wearing hats made of fresh fruit bumping and grinding in the background.

And if that's the case, step up and let Prez Prado, numero uno boss of smooth, seductive, hot-blooded music, set you straight. The diminutive Cuban was a fave of Latinos and jazz aficionados in the States in the early Fifties, but didn't catch on in a big way until '55 with "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White," a dreamy, midtempo throbber led by a liquid trumpet solo. The tune--track one in this well-chosen batch of 20--went straight to No. 1 on the pop charts, buoyed by its use as the theme to Underwater!, a Jane Russell bathing-suit vehicle.

For the rest of the decade, there was no stopping him. The country was in love with the mambo, and Prado gave the people what they wanted. A wild man onstage, the bandleader would goad his orchestra--and the crowds on the dance floor--into a delirious frenzy with cries of unngh!! and dilo!!, Spanish for "say it." And say it they would, with shameless, blaring horns, syncopated sax lines and the constantly percolating bongo/conga/claves rhythm section that kept the whole glorious machine moving. Granted, there is a definite formula to these tracks, but there's no denying the joyful party spirit in every cut here. The mambo may have faded from memory, but don't let Prez and his music follow the same fate. Go trade in those Santana albums and demand Prado. Unngh!!--

Considering his musical contributions to blaxploitation film, Van Peebles could be classified as the godfather of the genre. Renowned for his groundbreaking 1971 film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, he has now reentered the entertainment industry with his ninth album. But even though Van Peebles has several releases under his belt, this offering is not the cultured sound you would expect to hear from a music veteran. This time his musical presence is not a movie soundtrack; it's more like a last-ditch effort to put his name on the lips of a younger generation.

Whatever Van Peebles' reasoning for releasing this CD, Ghetto Gothic amounts to little more than a mlange of jazz and hip-hop fused with spoken word to the point of overkill. All the tracks are burdened with Van Peebles' groggy, cigar-smoke voice, not something one would listen to voluntarily. While most cuts have a musical background to nod your head to, the abundance of genres Van Peebles tosses proves only to be distracting. With rampant switches from opera contatas to bluesy love songs, Van Peebles tries too hard to please yesteryear's listeners and capture today's hip-hop generation. Lack of focus and ambiguous subject matter--lost loves, reflections of New York City, yawn--make for a lackluster and dull listening experience.-

The brothers Phelps (or "Brother Phelps," as they're inexplicably known) can be blamed for penning only two of the dogs on this disc of stale corn pone.

For most of this impossible endurance test of an album, Nineties country celebrity Kelly Jo Phelps and his brothers Ricky Lee and Carl Phelps thump through dopey songs by J.J. Cale, Dennis Linde and others. The title tune is Cale's "Anyway the Wind Blows," which opens and sets the tone for all that follows.

In "Wind," "some like that" rhymes with "where it's at," "give me that beat" with "move my feet," and "five, six, seven" with "get to heaven." Some great music or inspired performance might redeem these lamentable versifications, but the instrumental track delivered by Brother Phelps is as cut, dried and flaccid as the centerpiece of the John Wayne Bobbitt diorama at the Walter Reed Army Medical Museum.

Nothing else fares any better. Even rockers like Ricky Lee's (or was that Ricky Jo's?) "Ragtop" are lifeless, so it's no surprise when ballads like "Not So Different After All" and "Walls" fall flat. Not that the forced Yankee baiting of "Lookout Mountain" doesn't just sound stupid, like a rebel squeak from some boot fetishists with poodle hairdos. Not that these aren't just boot fetishists with poodle hairdos.

Not that this is country music. It isn't. This is a Scotchgarded pop-music soundtrack for selling exploding pickup trucks to stymied wankers and felchers. For that, it just might work.-

The first question that'll come to mind is, "Am I supposed to take this person seriously?" Ol' Dirty Bastard, a member of the Staten Island-based Wu-Tang Clan, uses his debut CD to showcase his oddball talent, which works. Sort of.

ODB spews off in a nervous, paranoid manner, and his unpredictable vocal delivery follows no particular pattern. Oh, and he simply cannot sing. The lyrics are straight-up dirty; this man probably wouldn't hold his tongue for Jesus. But occasionally, the Bastard's unique style translates into tracks like the hypnotic "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," one cut that sticks in your head. With a heavy influence from Wu-Tang Clan, Ol' Dirty Bastard is coming at you from a different angle. All that's required is an open mind and a willingness to allow this CD to grow on you. Which it will, like a fungus.--Danielle Hollomon


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