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A & E
Pop Music: Barking Dogg and Rolling Thunder

Friday, January 17, 2003

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic


Still G-Funk after all these years, the mighty Snoop Dogg bounces back with his funniest, funkiest, freshest, most infectious album yet.

Snoop Dogg: gangsta comedy and puppy love. (Reed Saxon, Associated Press)

He sets the scene with a "Godfather" skit that plays the ruthless nature of the gangsta life for laughs; kicks off the second cut, "Da Bo$$ Would Like To See You" with a sample or a damn good imitation of the little guy from "Fantasy Island" shouting "Boss! The plane! The plane!" and brings the funk to Gotham City on "Batman and Robin," a cut that somehow stays true to the spirit of the old TV show while allowing room for Lady of Rage (as Robin) to rap "Go get the Riddler and watch me play that n-- like the Fiddler on a hot tin roof" and "Holy Mackerel Batman/Think these clowns need the backhand/Let's be the Gap Band, drop the bomb on them and watch 'em scat, man" -- to which Snoop Dogg, as Batman, replies, "Like the Brother Caruthers?"

But as funny as those moments are, it's not all gangsta comedy. The Dogg is overcome by puppy love on the syrupy slow jam "I Believe in You" and "Beautiful," a stronger cut with Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes bringing his quirky falsetto and quirkier co-producer to the table. And the clown shoes come off long enough to kick some major butt when Snoop Dogg signs off with a fire-breathing battle rap called "Pimp Slapp'd," reserving his heaviest verbal artillery for Suge Knight.

With a cult of personality as well-defined as Snoop Dogg's, you could just as easily go spoken-word, but that doesn't stop the producers here from rising to the challenge, supplying the rapper with grooves that play right into his affinity for old-school funk 'n' soul, from "Stoplight," a spirited rewrite of Parliament's "Flashlight," to "Ballin'," with '70s soul greats the Dramatics bringing just the right amount of class to a cut that features Snoop Dogg rapping, "Watch out/No need to pull your glock out/It's a playa's affair/Now look at my hair."

Official Site: www.snoopdogg.com


The trouble with Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional doing an "MTV Unplugged" appearance is that it only makes it that much easier for the kids with his name on their notebooks to overpower their hero's performance with their singing. Well, that and the fact that his music is pretty unplugged to begin with.

What you're left with then is the equivalent of playing your Dashboard Confessional album on a school bus full of bobbing heads singing, effectively draining the songs of nearly all the lonely, melancholy charm that made you want to sing them in the first place. This is in addition to their cheering wildly at a number of his saddest lines. And no, Carrabba doesn't help the situation any by abandoning the mike on nearly every song to let the crowd sing lead. It may have been cathartic for the people who were in studio the day they taped this, but there's nothing cathartic about their catharsis for those of us who weren't there to share in the chorus of suffering the first time around.

The songs are nice, though.

Official Site: www.mtv.com

"LIVE 1975"

This legendary bootleg finds Bob Dylan and a band of gypsies ranging from Roger McGuinn and Joan Baez to names that only Dylanologists would recognize doing something unsuspecting concert-goers still complain about -- treating his classic recordings as works in progress.

Bob Dylan: classic works in progress. (Ken Regan, Camera 5)

Whether you see this as brilliant or not is a matter of personal taste. And this can vary song to song. I really like the rocked-up version of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," while the purists who booed him at Newport would think it was treason. Others may enjoy the liberties he takes with "It Ain't Me, Babe," throwing out the melody while bringing a lilting Caribbean flavor to the verse, but it ain't me, babe.

Either way, there's definitely something to be said for the ramshackle spirit of spontaneity -- at times abandon -- of the band's performances and even more to be said for the passion he brings to the vocals, from the nearly shouting -- demanding, even -- approach he takes to "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" to the more subdued, reflective feel of "Mr. Tambourine Man," one of many great acoustic cuts.

The album makes its strongest case for the decades of underground hype, though, when it hits what at the time would have been his more recent material, especially cuts from the as-yet-unreleased "Desire," which sound right at home with Scarlett Rivera essentially fronting the band on violin.

If you're picking it up, be sure it's got the bonus DVD with "Tangled Up In Blue" and "Isis," as filmed for the Dylan-directed "Renaldo and Clara."

Official Site: www.bobdylan.com

Ed Masley can be reached at emasley@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.

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