7) Spit on anyone who calls you a conservative, a music fascist, a retro freak. Tell them you voted Nader. Then turn up the treble. Play your crunchy Kinks licks faster. Sweat and sing: "I've studied hi-stor-y, yet I'm doomed to repeat/ Sense makes a retreat all because of you" ("Black and Blue"). Have fun.

-- Curtis Bonney

Sandra St. Victor
Mack Diva Saves the World
(Warner Bros.)

"I don't like men in cages/ Just let me be outrageous," sings Sandra St. Victor on her long-awaited solo debut, Mack Diva Saves the World. No one is stopping her anymore. She is smart, savvy, and sexy on her own terms. For St. Victor, this means pouring the spirits of Bessie Smith, Chaka Khan, and Patti LaBelle into an African-American post-feminist cat suit all her own, with platforms and Afro puffs to match. Her volatile mix makes a potentially sex-kittenish purr like "I want to cross the ocean/ Wearing just desire and lotion" into a lioness' rumble.

St. Victor has had to fight for her right to party. A longtime session singer and backup to Khan, Freddie Jackson, and others, she first arrived with the Family Stand, an iconoclastic black rock group who scored one hit, "Ghetto Heaven," and won loads of critical acclaim despite mainstream radio neglect. St. Victor originally signed to do a solo project for Elektra, but when Sylvia Rhone, the honcho who dropped the Family Stand, took over that label, St. Victor was freed to look for a new deal. Under these circumstances, she, and not some Versace mannequin, could tattoo the word "slave" on her cheek.

For all of St. Victor's, um, alternative cred, Mack Diva sounds like a fairly conventional bit of black pop. Most of the tunes range from ballad to midtempo. There is only a touch of hip-hop influence, and its hour-plus length seems strikingly radio-friendly. However, below its commercial surface lies the kind of record that Mary J. Blige might make if she survives a decade of fame. St. Victor's songs tell of a struggle between longing and self-reliance, desire and prudence, as well as what she wants and what she'll settle for. And as you may have figured out by now, she isn't the kind of woman who makes compromises easily.

-- Martin Johnson

Marisa Monte
A Great Noise
(Metro Blue)

In recent years, Brazilian pop has fused with a wide diversity of world music elements to produce a label-defying form of music. The undisputed queen leading the pack is the vocally gifted Marisa Monte. With A Great Noise, she proves it's no longer the Technicolor Samba of Carmen Miranda or the sedate strains of bossa nova jazz that characterize the music of Brazil. She and her contemporaries cruise a vast musical terrain. Monte's album, made in collaboration with longtime producer Arto Lindsay, combines studio sessions with live performance for a package that embraces Bahia reggae, indigenous funk, and the aesthetic richness of the '60s "Tropicalia" movement, along with highlights from her "Rose and Charcoal" tour a couple of years ago. Monte perfumes her songs with an expressive passion and saudade (that sad, bluesy yearning so important to the character of Brazilian music), using an operatic soprano to scream and growl, tease and tantalize. On the three studio cuts, she teams up with Carlinhos Brown, one of the most innovative and charismatic stars on the scene today. His "Arrepio" opens the date with the lilt of a lullaby and a drone that transforms into a choral rainbow; Monte soars sweetly over his acoustic guitar and a mat of bells and light percussion. Gilberto Gil's "Cerebro Electronico," which was written around '69 when he was on the shitlist of the military dictatorship for his protest songs, gets a rockish face lift with its prescient condemnation of computers.

Yet it's the live stuff, taken from performances in Rio and Recife, that showcases Monte's flawless talent. The flow and sequencing is perfect, with enthusiastic audience sounds that draw you in. Pieces like George Harrison's "Give Me Love" are flavored with tinges of accordion and the mandolinlike bandolim for a forro color. The sequence of "A Menina Danca" ("The Girl Dances") and "Danca da Solidao" ("Dance of Solitude"), written by sambista Pauhlino da Viola, has me going ape, but it's all so vibrant and tingly it will certainly have you dancing. The cover art features the underground porn of Carlos Zefiro, who printed crudely drawn mini-soap opera comic books in the late '50s during the military regime -- but it's Monte who soars, and who will certainly capture your heart if you let her.

-- Jesse "Chuy" Varela

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