Omar

Best by Far (Spun)

"Mod" is the word that immediately pops in my head whenever I hear Brit vocalist Omar perform, especially on this four-year-old import. It has such a swinging, Piccadilly Circus-circa-1964 snazziness to it, I keep wondering when Petula Clark is gonna show up to do a duet. Instead of Clark, we get Angie Stone, pairing up with Omar to do a bass-thumping, blues guitar-enhanced rendition of William DeVaughn's playa anthem "Be Thankful for What You've Got." (See if you can find the U.K. version, which pairs Omar with Erykah Badu.)

Best shows Omar, who produced the whole album, perfecting his own contemporary brand of bebop, as he soulfully riffs all over the disc's 13 tracks (and a couple of remixes). Just like the other albums he has released (including his underappreciated 1995 U.S. debut, For Pleasure), he combines cool-blue jazziness, neo-soul nerve and a smidgen of reggae-flavored inspiration, and through it all he creates a distinctive style that's familiar but fresh.

The title track couples spangly synthesizers with a rambling dub melody. "Essensual" and "Tell Me" are both busy soul-samba numbers, filled with lively horns and organs. The finale, "In the Morning," is a beautiful, twinkling doo-wop throwback.

Best by Far may be a cocky title for an album by a guy who's still trying to find his way into Yankee ear canals. (Who does he think he is -- LL Cool J or something?) But when you have the goods to back it up, a brash title can be forgiven.

 
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