Karin Williams -- Karin Williams (Independent) Jamaica native Karin Williams has a compelling resume: she started out singing reggae with the group D'luxx, and landed a minor hit with "Feelin' Kinda Lonely." Since moving to New Orleans she's embraced jazz, and her debut CD is an introductory calling card featuring Williams singing standards such as Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and Strayhorn and Ellington's "Day Dream." The A-list backing band is superb throughout, featuring pianist Darrell Lavigne, bassist David Pulphus, flutist Hart McNee, saxophonist Brice Winston and trumpeter Christian Scott. Williams sings in an understated, come-hither alto, matching McNee's exotic flute musings on "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To." The album's most intoxicating moment is its opening cut, "Faceira," a Brazilian samba that Williams gracefully and enchantingly sings in Portuguese.
Baby Boy -- Like Dat (Take Fo' Records) In terms of sheer speed, 16-year-old Baby Boy is staking his claim as the rapper with the fastest delivery to hit the New Orleans rap scene. On opener "What Cha Gon Do," Baby crams whole verses into breathless and seamless bursts, while "Shake a Leg" is a humorous party shout-out ("Don't shake the leg too fast, you'll be in the hospital"). The best groove on the album is the title track, with its deep bass throb, knob-twiddling spaceship effects and stuttering cartoon-character exclamations that sound like Elmer Fudd deep in the 'hood. "The Way I Live" is similarly catchy, a deliberate beat and personal manifesto that's refreshingly free of boasts of violence. There's the obligatory sprinkled references to Cristal Champagne and "big fat wheels," but some nice departures from standard rap themes; "What Da Deal" is as close to a love song as you'll find, with Baby Boy proclaiming that he's trying to "show Shorty that I'm real, tell Shorty how I feel, give Shorty what she needs." Ditto for "Aye Papi," which asks, "Do you really want to give me a chance/ Can I take you to my dance." Maybe traditional values aren't dead after all.
Sammy Kershaw -- I Want My Money Back (Audium/Koch) While some of his early recordings featured hints of Cajun and swamp-pop, Kaplan native Sammy Kershaw isn't looking back anymore. Now one of Nashville's established contemporary country stars (and engaged to Lorrie Morgan), Kershaw writes slick country-pop aimed at crossover audiences. The title track is a populist jab at overpriced concert tickets, while "Miss What's Her Name" is too typical of mainstream Nashville: all hook, no song. Speaking of hooks, if you've ever been in a Grand Isle bar after midnight, the fishing and hunting anthem "Beer, Bait & Ammo" is more scary than funny. "Bourbon Street on a Sunday Morning" name-checks the Saints and St. Charles Avenue; too bad it's a corny love song with references to moonlit walks on the beach.
Steve Conn -- Steve Conn (Not Really Records) Conn's another Louisiana native who headed to Tennessee, but works in the fringe singer/songwriter community that still produces honest music. (Credit his past stints with Gatemouth Brown, BeauSoleil and Albert King.) Professor Longhair is still an influence on Conn's piano playing, evidenced in the rolling rhythms of opener "If I Were King," which knights James Brown and exiles Newt Gingrich and Jerry Springer. Conn's a soulful singer whose voice recalls '70s-era Boz Scaggs, a perfect complement to Conn's multi-talented work on Hammond B-3, Wurlitzer and accordion. His diverse range shows in the bluesy slow-burn "Somebody Gotta Make a Move," the touching parent's anthem "Eliana" and the pastoral medieval imagery of "All the King's Horses." Note to guitar aficionados: longtime Conn associate Sonny Landreth plays understated slide guitar on three tracks. This is a smart, mature album that's tastefully produced; if Conn could land an opening touring slot for someone like James Taylor or Natalie Merchant, he'd earn an instant, sizeable fanbase.
Chromosome 180 -- Inhaling Corporate (Independent) Local rockers Chromosome 180 probably wouldn't sound out of place on the playlist of KKND 106.7 The End -- a blessing or a curse, depending on your point of view. Songs like "Anatom" use the now-cliched Nirvana formula of quieter melodic hooks giving way to crushing, distorted guitar choruses. The band tries to mix it up with reggae rhythms on "Knife" and the insistent acoustic strumming that distinguishes "Whatever You Want," but there aren't enough textural and stylistic departures to elevate the album above the current crop of homogenized modern rock bands.
- New Orleans vocalist Karin Williams embraces jazz standards and sambas on her self-titled debut CD.