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-- David Cantwell

Erykah Badu
Baduizm
Kedar Entertainment/Universal

Singing and scatting in an intimate, softly cackling voice, 25-year-old Dallas-born Erykah Badu cleverly brings a Prohibition-era sound to the modern-day urban revelries of R&B on her glorious debut album Baduizm. At first listen, Badu sounds like a Billie Holiday (and critics have already gone gaga over the idea that she's the second coming of Lady Day) with the socio-sexual stance of Me'Shell Ndege'Ocello. Prismatic tracks such as "Otherside of the Game," produced by hip-hopper Roots, and "Drama" convey the cultural perspectives of black women, while quiet-storm soul such as "Sometimes" and "No Love" reveal an erotically tense self-consciousness that tests the difference between an old soul and a dark spirit. The jazzy, lounge-flow version of "Certainly" also exhibits a take-charge subtlety.

There are a couple of tunes that, although Badu injects them with soulful ease, are merely pop pap (the useless love-triangle ode "Next Lifetime" is her "You, Me and He"), but that's the exception. The class Erykah Badu brings to her music on Baduizm is something hard to match, and something not to be taken lightly. (*** 1/2) -- Craig D. Lindsey

Erykah Badu performs Saturday afternoon, April 12, at the Enron Earth Day Festival, and that evening at Rockefeller's.

CDs rated on a one to five star scale.

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