By Rachel Heisler
Brooke Valentine Chain Letter (Virgin)
She's only 19 and she's co-written her debut CD, Chain Letter. About half of the CD sounds like any number of female R&B/pop artists on the market, but Valentine takes a few risks and rises above the countless others with some mesmerizing and distinguishing hits. Songs like "I Want U Dead" and "Blah Blah Blah" have distinctive beats, while the music is hauntingly aggressive, not blatant slap-you-in-the-face hip hop. And Valentine seems even stronger when accompanied by rappers such as the late Dirt McGirt, Lil' Jon, Big Boi and others. Valentine threads her way from lust to love to hate, and leaves a trail of men battered and beaten behind.
Dishwalla Self-titled (Orphanage)
Don't expect any songs like "Counting Blue Cars" (the one that first put Dishwalla on the charts so many years ago) to be waiting for you on the group's latest CD. Their fourth project is melancholy, which is fine, but it has, at least for now, lost the ability to hook the listener with, well, hooks. Their sound falls in between Bush and Live and that means falling short. However, "Creeps in the Stone" and "Surrender the Crown," which run together smoothly, are worth listening to—repeatedly. This may not be Dishwalla's best effort, but I do believe they will have more super-hits in the future.
Jennifer Lopez Rebirth (Epic)
J. Lo has all a girl could ask for ... all, that is, but a decent record. Rebirth is this year's most insipid CD, and it's hard to believe that after so many decent hits in the past, Lopez would be dense enough to put her music career on the line with such unconvincing songs. Her lyrics are immature and struggle just to rhyme, and the music sounds like it was thrown together at the last minute (with the exception of "(Can't Believe) This Is Me," which is a very graceful, passionate piece). She'll sell a billion copies, but that's because some people have crappy taste in music.
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Erika Wennerstrom • singer-