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Rick James

Deeper Still (Stone City)

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It's hard to view posthumously released albums as anything but crass commercialism. But for a guy like Rick James, whose drug and legal woes made him a Dave Chappelle parody before his death in 2004, any reminder -- however flawed -- of his musical greatness is welcome.

This sums up Deeper Still, a gentle collection of Latin-kissed R&B that leans too heavily on drum machines and romantic cliché -- the same issues plaguing James' later records. Yet James' croon is in full blossom, especially on a cover of David Crosby's "Guinnevere." The autobiographical "Taste" even makes me wonder whether this intended double album, shortened by his death, could have been a sadder and wiser Street Songs, James' 1981 funk masterpiece. Probably not -- but the best of this disc proves that Rick James was no joke, bitch.

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