· Is the same old "rant and roll" getting you down, my friend? Is your mind feeling mauled by too many beats per minute? Has talk-radio bravado turned to babble? Turn off, tune out, and select a healthier diet in your food for thought.

A handful of recent spoken-word recordings offer a menu of funky enlightenment, sobering political commentary, and crime-novel jazz. Most compelling and uplifting is Dr. Cornel West's Sketches of My Culture, a dramatic musical of the mind from the controversial Princeton University black-studies professor, formerly of Harvard University. West's deft musings are as brilliant as they are bold, making a quilt of the African-American experience with the rich fabrics of the history of black music, calling for a renaissance of self-respect and personal responsibility. What's so wonderfully surprising is the funky eloquence and flow from this preeminent African-American intellectual. From the freedom of jazz to the swell of spirituals to the Saturday-afternoon roller-rink bounce of the 1970s, West confronts gangster mentality and the volatile N word in a linguistic lecture that's soul, not square. The Artemis Records release also features a beautiful tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X in the track "3M's."

· Another compelling Mensa missive comes from Professor Noam Chomsky of MIT, in his latest live lecture recording, this time examining the United States drug war and our own dirty footprints in Columbia. Chomsky's view is radical yet difficult to deny as he asks why the U.S. should be so offended by Columbian farmers growing a narcotic crop that infiltrates our borders, while 50 million Chinese will die in the coming years from American tobacco products. The CD, entitled An American Addiction, comes from the partnership of Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label and the incendiary AK Press, whose next co-production is from Native American activist Ward Churchill with his conspiracy-activist exposé In a Pig's Eye.

· A similar collaboration between Dionysus Records and the Amok Press is from crime novelist John Gilmore, collecting his seedy stories of Hollywood doomed souls such as Janis Joplin, Lenny Bruce, Ed Wood Jr., and Charles Manson. The CD, Laid Bare, is like a beat poet's roadmap of the dark side of the street, featuring a haunting reflection on the famous Black Dahlia murder. Colored by Skip Weller's lounge-jazz score, this collection of crime-noir storytelling is nicely crafted and fascinating in its character portraits of stars such as Jack Nicholson, James Dean, and Dennis Hopper.

Television Alert:

The Late Show with David Letterman welcomes Angie Stone tonight, Trey Anastasio on Thursday, and Norah Jones on Monday; Late Night with Conan O'Brien hosts Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds this Friday overnight; The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn features Steve Earle this evening overnight, Trik Turner on Thursday overnight, and Five for Fighting on Friday overnight; Last Call with Carson Daly spotlights The Eels Thursday overnight; and Saturday Night Live's musical guest this weekend is No Doubt.

New Releases Coming Tuesday, May 7:
... and like the winds, young grasshopper, are subject to change

3rd Strike - Lost Angel (Hollywood) recently on the road with Machine Head

98 Degrees - The Collection (Universal) featuring the new single "Why (Are We Still Friends)"

Beat Happening - Crashing Through (K Records) six-CD box set

The Blamed - Give Us Barabbas (Tooth & Nail)

Blink-182 - The Urethra Chronicles II: Harder Faster Faster Harder (MCA) DVD collecting videos, live footage, and backstage antics

Bratmobile - Girls Get Busy (Lookout) triple-fem political punk rock that tackles September 11 and Chandra Levy

The Byrds - Byrds Sing Dylan (Columbia Legacy) all the band's Dylan covers collected on one CD

Coal Chamber - Dark Days (Roadrunner) with new bassist Nadja Peulen

Concentrick - Lucid Dreaming (Emperor Jones)

Crooked Fingers - Reservoir Songs (Merge) Eric Bachman's new collection of covers of songs by Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, and Neil Diamond

Danielson Famile - Flim Flop Flim Flam (Fluevog) CD EP

Will Downing - Sensual Journey (GRP) featuring a cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Can't Help It"

Elf Power - Creatures (Spin Art) highly anticipated return of these Elephant 6 participants, featuring guests Neal Golden of The Glands and Pete Erchick of Olivia Tremor Control

French Kicks - One Time Bells (Star Time) highly anticipated new album supporting the group's current cross-country tour

Fridge - Eph (Temporary Residence) two-CD set

Gordon Gano - Hittin' The Ground (Instinct) new from the Violent Femmes founder

The Gossip - Arkansas Heat (Kill Rock Stars) recently featured on the UK's Ladyfest tour

GrndNtl Brnds - The Great Dumbening (Vaccination) second album from the members of Thinking Fellers Union 282, Fibulator, and The Molecules

Jack Logan & Bob Kimbell - Woodshedding (Parasol)

The Makers - Strangest Paradise (SubPop) with such intriguing song titles as "Calling Elvis, John, & Jesus" and "Dear Father, I Think I'm Falling"

Mayday - Old Blood (Saddle Creek)

Jana McCall - Slumber (Up Records) new from the Dickless founder

Musiq - Juslisen (Def Soul) sophomore effort from this Philadelphia soul artist

Naughty by Nature - Iicons (TVT) with guests Peter Gabriel, Pink, Redman, Queen Latifah, and Method Man

Noogie - Remote Controller (Trauma) featuring a cover of the Easybeats' "Friday on My Mind"

Laura Nyro - The Loom's Desire (Rounder) two-CD set documenting two live performances from 1993 and 1994

O.A.R. - Any Time Now (Everfine Records) two-CD live collection with guest Junior Marvin of The Wailers

Pitchshifter - PSI (Sanctuary)

Six by Seven - The Way I Feel Today (Mantra/Beggars Banquet)

Swearing at Motorists/Spoon - split seven-inch single (Super Asbestos)

Andy Timmons - That Was Then, This Is Now (Favored Nations) new from this virtuoso guitar and former member of Danger Danger

various artists - Dub Your Brains Out (Victory World) featuring Culture, Augustus Pablo, Black Uhuru, Israel Vibration, and more

various artists - Family Values Tour 2001 (Elektra) live CD featuring Linkin Park, Static-X, Stone Temple Pilots, and a cover of Rush's classic "Tom Sawyer" by Deadsy alongside a solo take on Pearl Jam's "Black" by Staind front man Aaron Lewis

various artists - Fields & Streams (Kill Rock Stars) two-CD set of 45 previously unreleased tracks from indie favorites the Butchies, Neko Case, Quasi, Tender Trap, and more

Tom Waits - Alice and Blood Money (Anti/Epitaph) two new albums featuring guests Stewart Copeland of The Police and Oysterhead, and blues harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite

Johnny Winter - The Best of (Columbia Legacy) with Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, and Tommy Shannon

Warren Zevon - My Ride Is Here (Artemis) featuring collaborations with a foursome of acclaimed writers: novelist Hunter s. Thompson, Irish poet Paul Muldoon, investigative reporter Carl Hiaasen, and newspaper columnist Mitch Albon

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