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The soundtrack to Tarantino's latest effort, Jackie Brown, continues this tradition, mirroring both the film and its director's leanings toward '70s soul. Bobby Womack's strident "Across 110th Street," which bookends the movie, nicely reflects the title character's desire to break out of her restrictive circumstances while avoiding a jail sentence. Bloodstone's smooth doo-wop stylings on "Natural High" coax us to feel every bit of the sweet, respectful yearning that Robert Forster's bail bondsman feels for Pam Grier's Brown. (Grier herself makes a surprise appearance on the CD with "Long Time Woman," which she cut well over 20 years ago.) Jackie Brown's coolest track is arguably the Brothers Johnson's shimmering, hallucinatory tour-de-force "Strawberry Letter 23" -- in all of its uncut, five-minute glory -- which is used during a particularly tense sequence in the film to devastating effect.

Like even the best soundtracks, Jackie Brown does suffer from the occasional throwaway, including the all-too-predictable oldies radio standard "Midnight Confessions" and an unnecessarily jarring contribution from '90s porno-rap chanteuse Foxy Brown. Other tracks from Bill Withers, Minnie Riperton, Johnny Cash and the Vampire Sound, Inc. help round out the CD, but make less of an impact.

In any case, definitely see the film before listening to the CD, if only to put the music into its proper cinematic context. And as for the brief snippets of film dialogue that Tarantino includes, hearing Robert De Niro hacking away after a couple of deep bong hits is in itself worth the price of the disc. Either De Niro is an incredible method actor (most likely), or it must have been some strong shit. (****)

-- Bob Ruggiero

Babyface
MTV Unplugged NYC 1997
Epic

Am I alone in wanting to declare a moratorium on this whole MTV Unplugged thing? Something that was once considered an inventive and creative break from the norm has officially become ... the norm. It's gotten to the point where an artist isn't considered a whole entity until he or she has gone acoustic for a cable audience -- and documented the experience on CD.

Apparently, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds has caught the bug. A production mastermind and burgeoning movie-and-TV mogul, Babyface hardly seems like MTV Unplugged material. With his sensitive pop/R&B stylings, it seems he'd be more at home on, say, VH1's Storytellers. Nevertheless, here he is, commanding the show like it's one endless medley. More orchestrally elaborate than organically impromptu, the show addresses songs written and performed by Babyface ("Whip Appeal"), as well as those he penned for others to perform ("Change the World," "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)") -- all of it presented in a suitably slick and predictably melodramatic manner.

It's toward the end of the Unplugged performance that the tightly wound emotional histrionics begin to unravel. Babyface performs an embarrassingly elongated version of "The Day (That You Gave Me a Son)" as if he's singing from atop a glittering rose petal.

And when Stevie Wonder comes by to sit in on the last two songs, Babyface happily slips into the role of the eager-to-impress pupil to Wonder's well-heeled pop professor. Alas, in the end, the mentor outshines the protege, proving just how useless such a foray into canned banality is for an artist such as Babyface. (**)

-- Craig D. Lindsey

CDs rated on a one to five star scale.

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