Nelly Furtado: Whoa, Nelly!

Nelly Furtado: Whoa, Nelly!

As the music world gets smaller, the typically evocative word "cosmopolitan" loses some of its exotic connotations. After all, much contemporary music can be categorized as some sort of hybrid, and though some stylistic combinations sound more foreign than others, surprisingly few sound entirely alien, no matter where the artist is based. The distinction that makes a handful of these hybrids more interesting is sophistication, an attribute up to the standards implied by a word as classy and once-meaningful as "cosmopolitan." The Canadian-Portuguese singer Nelly Furtado embodies classy cosmopolitan pop: Her roots obviously stretch across the globe, and her music by extension embraces a record store's worth of influences. Furtado's almost ridiculously assured debut Whoa, Nelly! opens with a swirl of strings set against strummed acoustic guitar and a hip-hop pulse, and that song ("Hey, Man!") is immediately followed by "Shit On The Radio (Remember the Days)," with its stuttering R&B beat decorated with flamenco touches, scratching, and Furtado's surprisingly soulful voice. So goes the album, a casually eccentric collection of beguiling modern music that refuses categorization into any one style, let alone attachment to any one nationality. "Baby Girl," the dancehall-and-dub pair of "Party" and "I Will Make U Cry," "Turn Off The Light," and the TLC-styled Tropicalia of "Legend" represent true world music, a sign that cultural walls have crumbled to such a degree that exchange is inevitable and borders eradicated. Mexico's Julieta Venegas comes from a relatively traditional culture, but under the Rock En Español umbrella, she's emerged as a truly original talent. Venegas' second album, Bueninvento, benefits from the programmed production know-how of Café Tacuba guru Gustavo Santaolalla, as well as an international cast of guest musicians including Tom Waits, PJ Harvey collaborator Joe Gore, and drummer Joey Waronker. But Venegas' personality and skill as a songwriter come across first and foremost, fresh no matter what language she sings in. "Hoy No Quiero," "Enero y Abril," and "Voluntad" are driving and quirky new wave, while "Casa Abandonada" and "Siempre En Mi Mente" place her percussive accordion talents on display. Venegas' star qualities shine through even if the Mexico-to-America crossover appears unlikely. But her music is so intriguing that the opposite trade scenario could well occur, leading legions of adventurous music lovers south of the border to enjoy her particular brand of peculiarity.

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