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Artful Dodger 

It's All About the Stragglers (London-Sire)

Britain's latest DJ dance obsession has sent its first heralds. Pete Devereux and Mark Hill, better known as Artful Dodger, have become the overnight poster boys for the U.K.'s newest sample-based mongrel -- two-step, a.k.a. U.K. garage. Like R&B on speed, two-step takes the signature two-bar beats of Britain's half-breed drum 'n' bass and gives 'em dollops of dance-friendly funk and soulful vocals. "Re-Rewind the Crowd Say Bo Selecta," first released on Rewind: The Sound of U.K. Garage Mixed by the Artful Dodger, was the genre's first huge hit, and now the song has found its way onto the duo's latest disc, It's All About the Stragglers. This beaming dance-chart-topper mixes peppy drum beats, an aggravating "boink" sample, and the cheese-filled vocals of Craig David to create a pop tune in its most plastic sense. Luckily, most of the disc stands in stark contrast to the single.

"Think About Me" starts the album off right with an elegant piano solo before Michelle Escoffery's strong, soulful vocals kick in. She tells a story of bad relationships and the baggage she's accrued like a true survivor. Soon, infectious uptempo violins are helping her out. R&B singer Lifford Davis spins his own tale; this time, it's lack of willpower in "Please Don't Turn Me On." Tracks such as "Twentyfourseven," featuring Nicole, and "Movin' Too Fast," featuring Romina Johnson, border on pure R&B, yet they still compel the head to nod in satisfaction. But just as you begin to really like the album, MC Allistair's poor reggae raps on "RU Ready" and David's obnoxious crooning on "Woman Trouble" send the disc spiraling back downward. The album has substance, but it's not from the singles you'll hear on the dance floor.

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