Last year, when Arista released Even in Darkness, the first album by the Atlanta hip-hop crew Dungeon Family, the main selling point was the involvement of Outkast. But perhaps the most distinctive voice on the album belonged to Thomas "Cee-Lo" Callaway, who as the son of a Baptist minister and a founding member of Goodie Mob is both a rapper and a rafter-raising soul singer. While his charismatic rasp naturally stands out in any context, Cee-Lo has generally seemed content to keep a low profile, but it turns out that even in the spotlight he's a modest guy. On his sprawling solo debut, Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections (also on Arista), there's some good-natured boasting (when a pal requests some straight-up rhyming, Cee-Lo asks, "Hmmm, what would Jesus do?"), but mostly he's earnest as well as overwhelmingly positive. On the spare, twitchy manifesto "Big Ole Words (Damn)" he unleashes a barrage of reflective nuggets like "Perfectly imperfect is my dimension, definition / I engage and my pen pierce the page 'til it bleeds of my intention." He encourages the peeps to express themselves on the funky single "Closet Freak," shouts carpe diems to the sky on the wah-wah guitar stomper "Live (Right Now)," and extols the saving graces of music on the Sly Stone-esque "Gettin' Grown" ("Then sweet music set me free / From the statistic that I started to be"). Of course, on "Medieval Times (Great Pretender)" he does admit he's prone to weakness and anger. Some of the tracks, which Cee-Lo produced himself, groove acceptably but unexceptionally, but at their best--for instance, the soulful "Country Love," which improbably features John Popper on harmonica, or the delicate "Young Man (Sierra's Song)"--they're fully realized songs qua songs that forecast new possibilities for hip-hop. Cee-Lo opens for natural-soul hopeful Musiq, who on his new album, Juslisen (Just Listen) (Def Soul), still hasn't escaped D'Angelo's shadow. Friday, May 10, 9 PM and 1:15 AM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dean Karr.