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Kenna

New Sacred Cow (Columbia/Sony)

The future is here, or at least a close aural approximation thereof. Nominally soul music, this audacious début is world music in the truest sense, a polyglot of sounds from all over. Dub, hip-hop and electronic beats gel with samples, piano, guitar and funk bass lines to form a fluid backdrop for singer Kenna Zemedkun's smooth and impassioned vocals. New Sacred Cowsounds like an album Radiohead would record if its members weren't whiny, tweedy English guys but rather a single Ethiopian-born man in love with life and eager to try anything.

All the musical tourism would be just vagabond wandering if not for the fact that underneath all the squeaks and buzzing lie actual songs. "Freetime" and "Vexed and Glorious" pulse with hard dance beats leading into soaring, exuberant choruses. "Hell Bent" coaxes and stumbles into a meditation about the distance between heavenly bodies and heavenly redemption. The true skill of Kenna's craft comes out on "Yeneh Ababa" and "War in Me," with all the slick production tricks (provided by longtime friend Chad Hugo, of Neptunes fame) fading away into just piano, voice and melody.

The "neo" prefix gets tossed around a lot these days -- neo-soul, neo-rock, etc. -- but the music in question usually amounts to a rehash. With New Sacred Cow, Kenna has avoided genres and boundaries and created something truly exciting for the future: neo-everything.

 
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