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Notable CDs

Notable CDs | Five CDs with which to commemorate Black History Month

Down in New Orleans

Style: Traditional gospel songs by the current lineup of the 79-year-old gospel group.

Worldview: "[W]e thought we'd do good, but we never had the notion that it would be this good for so long" (founding member Jimmy Carter, in the notes).

Overall quality: Despite the fresh rhythmic life injected by various French Quarter combos, the absence (due to diabetes) of original lead singer Clarence Fountain renders the performances somewhat generic.

People Get Ready

Style: The latest reissue of this group's 1965 debut: a loose nightclub set of soul, blues, and Gershwin's "Summertime."

Worldview: That the Lord works in mysterious ways: The Chambers Brothers learned the Curtis Mayfield--penned title cut-now a gospel standard-in 30 minutes as a last-minute TV-show replacement for Mayfield's Impressions.

Overall quality: An enjoyable, pre-singer-songwriter-era document: self-expression bypassed to make the compositions of others sound good.

Here, My Dear

Style: Disc One: Gaye's 1978 sometimes sad, sometimes bitter two-LP chronicle of his divorce from Anna Gordy; Disc Two: imaginative remixes of Disc One.

Worldview: "You know, when you say your marriage vows, they're supposed to be for real. . . . It shouldn't be lies" ("When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You").

Overall quality: Deeper and, unfortunately, more enduringly relevant than Gaye's alleged masterpiece, What's Goin' On.

Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu

Style: Intensely hushed a cappella singing (mostly in their native tongue) by South Africa's foremost musical ambassadors.

Worldview: "Do not love God with an emotional love. . . . / It is unbalance and changes vibration" ("Prince of Peace"); "I love you, O God, / more than anything on this earth ("This Is the Way We Do").

Overall quality: Still exotic enough to require effort from Western listeners-and still well worth the trouble.

Standards & Ballads

Style: Fourteen jazz performances of compositions by Ellington, Carmichael, Gershwin, Rogers and Hart, et al., drawn from nine previously released Marsalis albums, 1983-1999.

Worldview: That perhaps "black history" (jazz) owes as much to "white history" (Broadway composers) as white history does to it.

Overall quality: As dignified, elegant, and charming as a candlelight dinner for two in the sort of restaurant that plays music of this kind in the background.

Spotlight

Shaka Zulu, in whose honor Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu (Heads Up/Gallo) was recorded, was a Zulu chieftain who lived, fought, ruled, and was assassinated approximately 200 years ago. As most Westerners are not particularly conversant with South African history, the details of the tribute will likely elude them. As most Westerners are also not conversant with Ladysmith Black Mambazo's native tongue (in which most of these songs are sung), the generalities (which are only somewhat elucidated by Joseph Shabalala's English liner summaries) might elude them as well.

What won't elude anyone is Ladysmith Black Mambazo's a cappella singing. Less hypnotic in its rhythmically undulating minimalism than it is meditative, it's probably something that Shaka, after a long day of warfare, would've loved chilling out to-that is, if the two gospel songs with English lyrics ("This Is the Way We Do," "Prince of Peace") hadn't already had him beating his spears into ploughshares.

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