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Field Mob 

Light Poles and Pine Trees (DTP/Geffen)

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If lowest-common-denominator crunk has caused you to write off the ascendant hip-hop South, then you probably missed the first two albums from Georgia's Field Mob. Defiantly country and consistently inventive, the duo was unafraid to flaunt its down-home roots and vulnerability. Smoke and Shawn Jay are well aware they've been unjustly slept on, however, and the makeover on their long-awaited third outing -- from the deal with Ludacris' DTP imprint to the pair's new nicknames -- will give old fans pause.

"Baby Bend Over," a strip-club anthem better suited for the Ying Yang Twins, will confirm that doubt; the good news is that the Mob is simply too talented to succumb to a few Lil' Jon-style leftovers. Yes, Light Poles is nakedly commercial, but the newly melodic flows remain nakedly honest as well. Smoke's "Blacker the Berry," which lays bare intraracial prejudice, is only one of several tracks that will have you hitting rewind to get the lyrics down. And even when things descend into standard pimpology, lines like "The only ho's you got/Is the one you water the lawn with" are tough to resist.

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