April 17, 2006 12:00 PM




She sings the body eclectic: Billie Holiday, the Monkees, U2. But better than anyone, Cassandra Wilson fuses blues and roots music with jazz. On her 16th disc, the roots vibe deepens. Dense textures and overlapping layers of sound turn funky on “Go to Mexico,” which riffs off beats sampled from a New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian band but speaks of sun and margaritas. Guitar picking and electric blasts from guests Keb’ Mo’ and Marc Ribot update traditional blues tunes by Willie Dixon (“I Want to Be Loved”) and Blind Lemon Jefferson (“Easy Rider”). Once again Wilson asserts her remarkable interpretive skills, delivering a supple, haunting rendition of the Wallflowers’ “Closer to You,” while her originals (including songs by new producer T Bone Burnett) offer driving rhythms, synth effects and evocative lyrics. “When we make love,” she sings on the darkly beautiful “Poet,” “we change the patterns of the weather.” Although thunderbird may offer few surprises to longtime fans of Wilson’s sultry voice, it finds a singular stylist still flying high.

DOWNLOAD THIS: “Closer to You”

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