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POP/ROCK

Artist Formerly Known As Prince: Chaos and Disorder (Warner Bros.) Grade: A _ In the days after his Purple Rain heyday but before his name became an unpronounceable glyph, Prince's new records were greeted the same way. Fans would hope against hope; This is the one where he gets back to his rock/funk/soul roots, they'd whisper. Then he'd release some off-the-wall nonsense like Lovesexy, forcing us all to wait another 11 months before hope flourished again. What a surprise, then, to pick up his last-ever record for Warner Bros. and discover he finally has gotten back to the rock on this one. Forget the bad reviews you may have read elsewhere; this is the glyph-guy's most exciting record in years, balanced between material such as the Beatle-inspired rave-up rocker I Like it There and the intoxicating collision of rap, rock and funk I Rock, Therefore I Am. It's hard to understand why the directionless ballad Dinner With Delores was chosen as the leadoff single, when funkier fare like the driving groove Dig U Better Dead was available, sweetened by singer Rosie Gaines' Chaka Khan-style vocal touches. Disenchanted with Warners _ the name change was partly an aborted attempt to release material outside the company _ ex-Prince makes no bones about this record serving as his final original music album for the corporation (a three-CD set of unreleased gems is planned as the official last Prince product from Warners). It's an ambitious thumb in the eye, referencing dancehall toasts, hip-hop flavor, rock bombast and funk groove while reasserting the former Prince Rogers Nelson's status as one of the pop world's most ambitiously creative artists. _ Eric Deggans, Time pop music critic

BROADWAY

Rodgers & Hammerstein: State Fair; original Broadway cast (DRG) B+ _ One of the most enjoyable events of last season was State Fair at Ruth Eckerd Hall. The show toured before making its way to Broadway, where it closed after a short run. Now here's the original cast album, and it's as delightfully old-fashioned on disc as it was in the theater. Hearing the music again confirms that co-directors James Hammerstein (Oscar's son) and Randy Skinner and their collaborators did a great job of creating a stage score from the original 1945 movie score, which had only six songs. They pulled songs from the Rodgers & Hammerstein trunk of unused material, such as the early Oklahoma! effort When I Go Out Walkin' With My Baby. They cherrypicked songs from non-blockbuster R&H shows, including So Far from Allegro. All these numbers from here and there work together well. John Davidson, Kathryn Crosby, Andrea McArdle and Donna McKechnie were top-billed in the show, and they were fine, but the most winning performance was by Scott Wise, previously better known as a dancer. Wise demonstrated he is quite a singer, too, playing a young, slightly cynical newspaper reporter on the fair beat. His rendition of The Man I Use To Be is pure pleasure. _ John Fleming, Times performing arts critic

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