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Published February 15, 2004

NELLY FURTADO, FOLKLORE (DREAMWORKS) Nelly Furtado was 20 years old when she released Whoa, Nelly! in the fall of 2000. It was a lively, energetic album, full of great hooks and funky beats. Good as it was, it wasn't hard to tell the artist was fresh out of her teens.

Another listen to Whoa, Nelly! after hearing her followup, Folklore, will reveal some hints of what was to come. And if Furtado was just a plucky kid on Whoa, Nelly!, she sounds wise beyond her years in Folklore.

Furtado makes clear she's not repeating her first album with the opening track, One-Trick Pony: "I am not a one-trick pony/I really feel nothing can hold me," she sings. Fair enough. And it wouldn't be so believable if she weren't singing over the prickly sounds of banjo, mandolin and dulcimer accompanied by silky strings and a meaty beat. Good start.

Banjo and mandolin reappear in Powerless (Say What You Want), in which Furtado, the daughter of Portuguese natives who immigrated to Canada, celebrates her ethnicity. As the title implies, much of Folklore is about Furtado's connections with her ancestry. The track Fresh Off the Boat, for instance, celebrates new beginnings.

There also are themes of maturation and disappointment, reminders that this still is a young woman, though an intelligent and insightful one. Saturdays, in which Furtado laughs through some of her lines, is a nice youthful romp.

Furtado soars, though, on a few of the slower tracks. On Try, she hits the mark on two gorgeous choruses before a stunning improvisational ending. Picture Perfect nicely blends Hendrix-like guitar, a jazzy piano and Furtado's sweet voice. Perhaps the album's best song is the haunting Build You Up, reportedly a song without lyrics until Furtado woke from a nap at the recording studio, entered the vocal booth and sang the graceful lyrics without pause.

Not every song on the album is great and the folk theme drags somewhat toward album's end. And there may not be any hits here: This album isn't as accessible, and therefore not as radio-friendly, as Furtado's first. But to see a young talent meddle with her formula with such courage is rewarding. A-

- CHRIS TISCH, Times staff writer

THE OFFSPRING, SPLINTER (COLUMBIA) This album was supposed to be called Chinese Democracy, the title the Offspring planned to hijack from long-suffering Axl Rose. But apparently the band felt it was jinxed after announcing the name and having trouble in the studio. So it changed the title.

The Offspring always has been good at riding gimmicky shtick to the charts, whether it be the throaty "You gotta keep 'em separated" and cutesy guitar of Come Out and Play, or the sexy-Latina chant "Give it to me baby" from Pretty Fly for a White Guy.

Truth is, these guys have been around for almost 20 years and their early sound is much purer punk than you hear in their radio songs. Its early style still shows up, but the Offspring is good at slowing the pace a little and gluing on contagious hooks.

The song that does that best on Splinter is Hit That, a radio hit with a deflating bass, keyboard blips that sound like the catchy bits from video games, and a great, throbbing chorus.

Other highlights include the ska-flavored Worst Hangover Ever, the fast and furious The Noose and the mighty Race Against Myself.

Since the breakout album Smash in 1994, each of the Offspring's albums has produced at least one catchy hit. The band's fare is light and catchy without the trappings of rock star brooding.

Besides getting his album title back, maybe that's something Axl Rose could learn for himself. B

- C.T.

THE MAVERICKS, THE MAVERICKS (SANCTUARY) Trying to describe the Mavericks to the uninitiated has always been an exercise in futility. A band that got its start playing country music in Miami? With a lead singer who sounds like a sexed-up Roy Orbison? Boasting a record collection that includes Ray Price, Tito Puente and Engelbert Humperdinck? Riiight.

But this unlikely mix once again makes for a bewitching brew on the Mavericks' long-awaited eponymously titled new CD. The Mavericks isn't as ambitious as the band's last noncompilation disc, 1998's bold and brilliant Trampoline. And unlike that album and 1995's Music For All Occasions, it doesn't provide the thrill of forging into new stylistic territory.

But then, maybe that's a good thing. At this point, frontman Raul Malo would have to try his hand at Tuvan throat singing to find a genre he hasn't already wrapped his golden pipes around. Which simply leaves us with another wonderfully eclectic album that builds on the band's previous strengths and gives real pleasure, such as on the widescreen melodrama of In My Dreams, the salsa-flavored Shine Your Light, and a soaring rendition of the Hollies' The Air That I Breathe.

The Mavericks tilts a tad too heavily toward pop material, where a bit more grit or twang would have been welcome. Otherwise, with Malo's can't-miss songwriting and his big, majestic voice, this band can do no wrong. B+

- LOUIS HAU, Times staff writer

RAPHAEL SADDIQ, ALL HITS AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES (POOKIE ENTERTAINMENT) The late, lamented Tony! Toni! Tone! broke up in the late '90s just as the neo-soul movement it helped midwife began to blossom. Happily, individual band members continue to stay active, the latest offering coming from former TTT frontman Raphael Saddiq.

On his second solo album, the live double-disc All Hits at the House of Blues, Saddiq provides a compelling glimpse of his musical vision, one that's inspired by the soul glories of the past while keeping an eye fixed squarely on the future. If that sounds like a description of neo-soul itself, it's because Angie Stone, D'Angelo, Maxwell, India.Arie and other like-minded R&B artists all took their lead, to some degree or another, from the trailblazing Tonys.

What makes Saddiq's influence all the more impressive is that he isn't as naturally gifted a singer as those aforementioned acolytes. But the man makes the most of what he's got, using his boyish voice on All Hits to convincingly beg and plead his way through a large portion of his terrific 2002 solo debut, Instant Vintage. And he retains a restlessly inventive touch with arrangements - check out the (not kidding) tuba solo on the Instant Vintage number Still Ray.

For a guy who's still trying to establish himself as a solo act, Saddiq shows a disarming desire to share the spotlight. It's an approach that pays off beautifully as he trades verses with his backup singers on the slinky Excuse Me and with D'Angelo on a hard-driving version of Be Here. But when the admittedly capable Joi gets two numbers all to herself, you wish Saddiq would start hogging the mike a little more.

There's even a surprising TTT reunion, with Saddiq, his brother Dwayne Wayans and their cousin Timothy Christian Riley performing a clutch of Tonys favorites, although the impact of their miniset is blunted by drastically truncated renditions of Whatever You Want and Loving You. All Hits is one of those rare double albums that leaves you yearning for more. B+

- L.H.

[Last modified February 12, 2004, 11:10:10]

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