Meshell Ndegeocello, "Devil's Halo"
Though not as sprawlingly ambitious or experimental as the 2007 "The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams," Meshell Ndegeocello's eighth release, "Devil's Halo," neatly straddles a line between challenging and accessible, with some of the tightest and catchiest compositions she's yet brought forth. Listeners might not get that from the opening song, "Slaughter," which moves from liquid-like verses to crash-bang choruses with a Radiohead-style prog vibe, but tracks like "Mass Transit" and "Blood on the Curb" channel melodic, if slightly subversive, new wave influences-and the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde would pay large for the leathery attitude of "Lola." Ndegeocello lays jazz overtones atop of "White Girl," old-school synthesizers through "Die Young" and brings out front-porch Americana for "Crying in Your Beer." She also uses a big beat and subtle dissonance to turn Melvin Riley's "Love You Down" into a Joni Mitchell-flavored tone poem. "I transform myself for maximum attraction," Ndegeocello sings in "Mass Transit." It works. --Gary Graff