Sound advice 

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Buy if you like: Diplo, Santigold

M.I.A.'s first two albums heralded one of the more creative sonic adventurists within the realm of hip-hop/electronica. On Maya, she again conjures up a kaleidoscope of aural fun, with an array of beats — programmed and otherwise — plus the occasional pop melody. On "XXXO," it's the catchy chorus, more than the tribal/electronic rhythms and space-age musical touches, that carries the song. Her cheeky venture into reggae, "It Takes a Muscle," works because its bouncy melody is perfect for the song's skanking pulse. Meanwhile, the fat rock riff that powers "Meds and Feds" makes this one of the most attention-getting tracks. But others, like "Teqkilla," "Steppin Up" and "It Iz What It Iz," amount to little more than beat-heavy soundscapes that lose excitement after a few listens. If M.I.A. can step up her songcrafting skills to match her sonic creativity, she'll have the total package. — Alan Sculley

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J Roddy Walston and the Business

J Roddy Walston and the Business


Buy if you like: Replacements, Georgia Satellites

Press materials describe this group's members as living on a steady diet of Jerry Lee Lewis, the Replacements and Small Faces, and that gives away the type of rowdy, Southern-flavored rock that pours out of the grooves here. Driven by the piano of J Roddy Walston and the pounding drums of Steve Colmus, it's already in the running for rock's good-time party album of the year. The sound is particularly enervating on "Full Growing Man," as cool falsetto backing vocals, a thumping rhythm and powerhouse hook combine with raucous effect. The more acoustic "Pigs & Pearls" powers down some but boasts plenty of swagger, while "Don't Get Old" is another standout stomper. There's plenty more where those tracks come from, as Walston and company prove they know how to start a party and keep it rolling. — Alan Sculley

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Cyndi Lauper

Memphis Blues


Buy if you like: Bonnie Raitt, Sue Foley

That's right, the popstress of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" fame can sing the blues. She grew up listening to 'em and, when she finally got the chance to put out a blues record, had sense enough to recruit some of the best. Among them is the great New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint and the legendary B.B. King, who trades lines with her on the sultry shuffle "Early in the Mornin'." At 57, Lauper still has a bit of a little-girl twist in her vocals, but she fits it perfectly into the songs. Revamping some blues classics, she gives Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" new, and more than a little feminist, twists. From the trill of Charlie Musselwhite's harmonica that opens "Just Your Fool" to the gritty duet with guitarist Jonny Lang on "Crossroads" that ends the record, Memphis Blues hits its target with style and class. — L. Kent Wolgamott


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