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Rhythm & Views

Chocolate Genius Inc

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It's not surprising that actor, soundtrack composer and pop singer-songwriter Marc Anthony Thompson would have identity issues--his recording pseudonym is Chocolate Genius Inc. With this, his third album under his nom de pop, Thompson has created a genuine masterpiece about, as he puts it, "family, faith and the future. "

Produced by veteran Craig Street, Black Yankee Rock is a fascinating, humorous, sometimes enervating and often-stirring conflation of rock, jazz, funk, trip-hop, folk and soul.

Speaking to Thompson's eclecticism is the delicious variety of guest artists with whom he collaborates, including avant-garde jazzmen Marc Ribot and Roy Nathanson; uncategorizable singer-songwriters such as Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Stephanie McKay and Toshi Reagon; and pop impresario Van Dyke Parks.

Thompson expresses concerns about his life's purpose and debilitating emotional patterns on the opening track, "The Beginning of Always," a bristling, distorted rocker with a funky undercurrent. But he also testifies to the joy of romantic commitment, as evidenced in the stark, piano-led closer, "Same Time Tomorrow."

In between, Thompson handles acoustic R&B that might make Babyface jealous ("Tomboyrockstar"); lush, orchestrated chamber pop in the mold of Brian Wilson ("Chasing Strange"); dark, minor-key brooding à la Leonard Cohen ("Down So Low"); and quirky Beck-style funk ("Rats Under Waterfalls"), the result is a unique, triumphant vision of creative potential fulfilled.

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