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Uncovering musical gems from years past

The Baltimore Sun

When friends stop by my place, they gasp at my music collection -- not just because I have thousands of CDs. They're shocked at how unorganized they are. Stacks and stacks of jewel cases on tables. On the floor. On shelves. In crates. In boxes. Even in old duffel bags.

I often know which stack contains what. Sometimes, though, it takes a minute to find that one song on that one CD I haven't heard since my freshman year of college. A part of me likes rediscovering CDs in all the disorganization. It's like rummaging through a musical treasure chest. But the real truth is that my lazy butt doesn't want to tackle the job of alphabetizing thousands of CDs.

Recently, out of boredom and because I had limited funds for going out, I spent an evening combing through all that music. I found several CDs still wrapped in cellophane. When I'm not keeping up with what's new, I'm unearthing gems from the past. Here are a few I've revisited lately.

Erykah Badu, Mama's Gun: --The Grammy-winning neo-soul diva is supposed to drop a new album, Nu AmErykah, late next month. And I hear from a very reliable source at her label that the album is going to be off the hook. I'm sure it will be, because Badu always brings something fresh and thrilling to the game. But while I wait impatiently for the new CD, I've been absorbing this classic from 2000. Although overlong, Mama's Gun is still inviting with its intoxicating grooves and enriching lyrics. Since arriving on the scene in 1997, Badu has seemingly become more popular for her unusual drag than for her music. And that's a shame. She's one of the most exciting artists in contemporary R&B;, and Mama's Gun proves over and over again just how wondrously deep her talent is.

Cheryl Lynn, In the Night: --A good friend, a fellow music critic, introduced me to the glorious voice of this Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter. Up until about eight years ago, all I knew were her big hits: 1978's exuberant classic "Got to Be Real," 1981's "Shake It Up Tonight" and 1983's "Encore."

But digging a little deeper, I acquired some of her early work, including In the Night, Lynn's superlative 1981 LP produced by Ray Parker Jr. Although it spawned the Top 5 R&B; dance hit "Shake It Up Tonight," the album mostly ripples with sparkling ballads. A year and a half ago, the hard-to-find LP was finally reissued on CD along with Instant Love, the singer's slightly overwrought 1982 set produced by the late Luther Vandross. Well-aged, In the Night radiates with Lynn's passionate vocals and Parker's sensitive, groove-rich arrangements.

Margie Joseph, Feeling My Way: --Last year, pop matters.com ran a nice profile on this criminally overlooked '70s pop-soul singer. She had garnered a small measure of attention after three of her Arif Mardin-produced albums on Atlantic Records were reissued as Japanese imports. Originally released between 1973 and 1975, the CDs feature standout lush arrangements by the celebrated Turkish producer, who oversaw Norah Jones' multiplatinum albums before he died in 2006.

On Feeling My Way, a sensuous 1978 effort, the Mississippi vocalist is produced by the late Johnny Bristol, and the two turn out a classy set. But as with Joseph's previous efforts for the label, Atlantic did next to nothing to promote it. Resisting the disco trappings of the day, the album generated no hits and quickly went out of print. But in December, Collector's Choice Music reissued Feeling My Way, along with Joseph's four other Atlantic albums. With smart, elegant arrangements, sweetened by Joseph's slightly girlish voice, Feeling My Way has held up well. The reggae-tinged "How Will I Know" is especially ripe for sampling.

Santana, Caravanserai: --This 1972 classic was nicely remastered and reissued by Sony in 2003. It's probably one of the guitar god's most overlooked sets. Swimming with high-minded jazz-rock fusion, it's one of those albums that commands your attention, requiring more than one or two listens to fully appreciate. It's not as immediate as, say, Abraxas, Santana's masterstroke from 1970. But I find this rapturous, shifting album more rewarding each time I spin it.rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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