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Bright Lights, Big City 

Master P, Ed Pettersen

ED PETTERSEN'S THE NEW PUNK BLUES OF ... (Split Rock) is of course a folk album -- recorded in Nashville, no less. Pettersen tells the tale of two cities in "Chelsea" and disc closer "Baghdad." The latter is only too timely, as the significance of election week sinks in. With lyrics such as "It's 1 p.m. and they're dropping bombs on Baghdad / Makes me think of all the things we had / Rubble falls as nighttime calls in Baghdad / Pretty home like ours comes down / Makes me so sad ... about Baghdad", the tune's no rival of the sonic and allegorical complexity of OutKast's "B.O.B." but it's simple, direct message is effective. Equally downturned is "Chelsea," with a pervasive air of regret even more personal, having formerly resided in that Gotham neighborhood in the halcyon days of my early 20s (unless Pettersen's referring to London's swinging quarter of the same name). When he sings "Ain't goin' back to Chelsea / Ain't goin' back that far / Ain't goin' back to Chelsea / Ain't goin' back no more ..." over Nick Drake-friendly chords, ghosts flit and the sorrow and certitude that one cannot go home again is most acute.

SINCE AUDITIONING MONICA AS BABY MAMA and running amok with a pistol, Master P's babe bruh C-Murder has spent a swathe of the new century on lockdown. And then his city was nearly washed away by that real beeyotch, Hurricane Katrina. Although back on house arrest with retrial pending, C-Murder seems to be thriving anew per The Tru Story ... Continued (Tru/Koch). Such bonus tracks as "I Live In the Ghetto" are boilerplate post-crack street slave narrative, and rhyming "baking soda" with "get over" is definitely a mouth quirker. Yet C-Murder's intoning of "I know I live in the ghetto / I know I'm hopeless Soweto / Y'all look at me like an outcast / One day i'll die by the gunblast" is also poignant summation of the bleak quotidian realities and black nihilism many of New Orleans' dispossessed citizenry endured even before the deluge. (Especially since he violated his terms by alledgedly sneaking out to attend the premiere of Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke). Then "On My Block" featuring Dayton Family's Bootleg returns to Gotti phantasms per usual.

ONE CAN ONLY DO SUCH A HARD THUG LIKE C-MURDER JUSTICE by reviewing him next to gay rapper Cazwell. Considering C's relentless bitch anxieties, it's doubtful he'll invite cheeky Cazwell to guest anytime soon. Worcester, Massachusetts-bred Cazwell's Get Into It (Peace Bisquit/West End) opens with the bouncy, ol' skool New York party beats of self-defining manifesto "I Buy My Socks On 14th Street" -- 14th being the borderline between the West Village and traditionally gay-centric Chelsea. Yet tunes like "All Over Your Face" (Loose Joints' -- via dance icon Arthur Russell -- 1980 "Is It All Over My Face" reprised) and "Gettin' Over" are no different from standard hip-hop plaints about wayward lovers. With his brawny MA accent and influences ranging from Biggie Smalls to Cyndi Lauper, Cazwell is the rap-dance final solution, a superb alternative to Marky Mark and creative and skilled enough to banish thoughts of certain inept white rappers forever (Vanilla what? K-Fed who?). Hope y'all threw them asses in the air like ya just don't care when Cazwell brought his distinctive flow to the Forum on Nov. 19.

S.C.'S BILL NOONAN BAND latest roots rock work is Catawba City, featuring the great, cutting title track lamenting New South growing pains. From a surging bluegrass bed, lyrics like "Catawba City, Catawba City, They're turning Mayberry into a big ole town without pity" take a rebel stand against those agents of change who would forget where they come from.

SONY ET AL have been busy worker bees conserving the legacy of the Clash during 2006. And so the myth-building project of punk's greatest band continues with the release of The Singles Box (Legacy), including all 19 UK singles. "London Calling" snarls out with no diminished power but accompanied by the original artwork. The perfect political, apocalyptic screed for the holidays.

BONUS TRACK: The Grateful Dead's groovy vibe always seems to suggest some hoped-for American pastoral which never truly existed -- not even in the Wild West -- despite the fact that the long-lived band was formed in San Francisco. Yes, the group's figurehead Jerry Garcia had a bluegrass jones and prowess in various forms of "wooden music," but their sound still coalesced in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury at the height of its overcrowding and turbulence, played out at the city's obliging parks and ballrooms. And so, "Shakedown Street," reprised for the umpteenth time on Phil Lesh & Friends' recent release Live At the Warfield (Image Entertainment), recorded in SF in May '06, has always been a favorite amongst the Dead's repertoire; it seems to recall that urban spirit in addition to the group's debt to black music idioms. Although it's not the song I invoke when trying to convince dubious folk of color that one can, well, dance to the Dead, "Shakedown Street" is mighty funky with vocals from Joan Osborne, this Lesh version eschewing the disco of the original for blues and jazz.

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