Sean Paul

Sweet-faced dancehall DJ Sean Paul decided to name his new album "The Trinity" because it is his third LP, took three years to complete and was done entirely in "Third World" Jamaica.

But the title of the long-awaited follow-up to 2002's multiplatinum "Dutty Rock" could as easily refer to the divine triad of song templates that Paul always depends on: speedy suggestive tracks made for grinding, the odd slowed-down love song and pulsating dancehall heaters with lyrics about tearing the club up.

Owing to that formula, "The Trinity" is stuffed with pop-chart-friendly singles.

Paul's sexy singjay style floats over rhythms from a host of renowned dancehall producers, including Steven "Lenky" Marsden, the man responsible for the ubiquitous "Diwali riddim" that in 2003 was the foundation for everything from Paul's "Get Busy" to the Lumidee hit "Never Leave You (Uh-Oooh)."

On "The Trinity," Marsden's "Masterpiece" riddim (a fluid melody broken up with synth chirps and a tight backbeat) supports the irresistible "Ever Blazin'," which has Paul professing: "My love is ever blazin', ever blazin', girl, and you know it naw go change." Also coming soon to a sweaty house party near you: the pounding drums of "Temperature" and the frenzied lead single, "We Be Burnin'," which is cooled off with a sprinkling of strings.

And to show that he has more on his mind than making hips wind, Paul even slips in a couple of socially conscious songs, including "Never Gonna Be the Same," a roots-influenced track that manages to convey an anti-violence message without extinguishing the album's fire.

-- Sarah Godfrey


Paul Wall

Some distracting things about Paul Wall:

First, he pronounces his name more like "Paoh Waoh," and every "L" thereafter is eliminated in a series of vowel movements. Second, his dental diamonds -- if released on the open market -- might very well end De Beers's monopoly on the trade. And last, the drawly ghettoisms and ice grill come from a face that's white.

Paul Wall is a walking, talking logo. But beyond the distractions of image, and inevitable discussions of his whiteness, Wall actually serves up a heaping helping of homegrown Houston hip-hop that stands solidly on its own.

Listening to Wall's major-label debut, "The People's Champ," is like entering another universe: Time, beats and words all move in a slow, humid haze. There is only one language spoken here -- car talk. Wall and his Swisha House crew so thoroughly take their discourse on auto accessories through every possible permutation that they should probably rechristen themselves the Pep Boys.

Though the 25th reference to "candy paint" starts to become, oh, a tad oppressive, Wall's album does what all good hip-hop should -- immerse you in a subculture while musically transcending it. With one listen to the single "Sittin' Sideways" at appropriate volume, your sedan may start leaping off the asphalt, even without hydraulics.

Wall's likable character makes up for what he lacks in lyrics, and although he never once plays up his ethnicity, Wall quietly represents the Southern reflection of the same forces that created Eminem, speaking for a generation of white boys in the New South who've cast their lot with the very folks their fathers feared.

-- Dan Charnas


David Banner

David Banner became hip-hop's Bob Geldof in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, organizing a huge benefit concert in Atlanta and generally putting charity before the need to promote "Certified," his new album.

It wasn't a break in character for the Mississippi rapper -- he's always positioned himself as a gangsta with a firm grip on the sociological realities of the South.

While Banner's intellect seems to be running things in real life, on "Certified" his primal urges are plainly in the driver's seat -- the disc is dominated by splashy crunk beats and gratuitous sex rhymes, and it seems less concerned with offering the kind of street-politics commentary sprinkled throughout 2003's "Mississippi: The Album."

There are respites, though: The joyous "On Everything" surges on a sample of a marching band playing the "King's Motorcade" theme from Eddie Murphy's "Coming to America," and the acoustic guitar-backed "My Life" tries to pick up where Banner's hit "Cadillac on 22's" left off.

The song is trite -- "I've been tryin' to do right, but they still wanna take my life" goes the chorus -- but at least it involves higher thought processes.

The crunk, meanwhile, tends to be by the numbers. Lil Jon's ticky-tacky beat for "Treat Me Like" is probably the most memorable; Banner's own production elsewhere is passable but lacks the same panache. And the lovey-dovey stuff just wears thin -- the hushed, no-frills sound of the single "Play" can't deflect the fact that when it comes to the opposite sex, "Certified" is all about the conquest, not the tactics.

-- Joe Warminsky WATER SPHERE


From Gibby Haynes to the Polyphonic Spree to Roky Erickson, Texas has long been a fertile breeding ground for pop music eccentrics. Even seasoned Lone Star State observers might be surprised by Texarkana's Pilotdrift, though, whose second disc, "Water Sphere," warbles and wiggles through a pop music dreamscape that is positively otherworldly.

The quintet is the first act inked to Good Records (an offshoot of the Dallas record store owned by the Spree's Tim DeLaughter and Julie Doyle) that doesn't feature DeLaughter as a member. Pilotdrift shares the Spree's widescreen dynamics but little else: The centerpieces of "Water Sphere," "Late Night in a Wax Museum" and the nearly 10-minute "Jekyll and Hyde Suite," drag sci-fi psychedelia into a dank and bubbling mad-scientist lab and perform countless crossbreeding experiments on it. The opening "Caught in My Trap" is spooky, too, immediately evoking Danny Elfman's inspired singing and score for Tim Burton's "Nightmare Before Christmas," as does the pulsating "Elephant Island" before it boogies into the mist on electric guitar and organ that sounds like circa-'76 Kansas.

Swathed in lush strings and sharpened by guitar runs, "Water Sphere's" verdant sound occasionally parallels the work of Mercury Rev but is underpinned by a swatch of Texas weirdness that makes it both fascinating and a little unsettling. And if the arrangements are occasionally bloated -- suggesting Pilotdrift could one day turn into this decade's Marillion -- the majority of "Water Sphere's" monster mashes sound great, a salve for ears rubbed raw by current pop's redundancy.

-- Patrick Foster

Sean Paul tacks a few socially conscious songs onto his usual dancehall fare.