Critic's Choice for the week of February 16-22, 2005 

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.

HIP-HOP POLARIZATION

The mighty Mos Def was recently praised in these pages as one of the best MCs ever, and the scary thing is that's not far from the truth. The Brooklyn MC was already famous for his classic Blackstar album with Talib Kweli (1998) and his gold-selling debut solo album Black on Both Sides(2000), before he stepped his game up with an actually successful acting career. But he returned to recording last year with The New Danger, a highly ambitious effort seeking to blend traditional hip-hop with black music's rock and blues tradition. The album has divided critics, and shows with Mos' full band, Blackjack Johnson (a tribute to the late heavyweight champion), have also elicited uneven responses -- his older hip-hop fans tend to hate it, while open-minded types dig it. Decide yourself tonight at the Berkeley Community Theatre. $35, 8 p.m. APEconcerts.com (Eric K. Arnold)

WHOMPIN' ROCK

Need a good capital-R rock band with a collective IQ higher than the dollar amount they spent on their pants? The honorable Texas boys in the Secret Machines play massive, whompin' wide-open art rock with booming drums and sweet melodies and enough literary pretension to get a few nods from the Pitchfork set, not to mention a gig opening for Interpol awhile back. See 'em solo Friday night at the Independent in SF. $16, 9 p.m. TheIndependentSF.com (Rob Harvilla)

CHORAL POP

From her teen years drumming and singing in '60s San Francisco rock band the Loading Zone, Linda Tillery has been an imposing presence in Bay Area music, inspiring and uplifting those around her with her life force and amazing voice. Her longest gig remains the globe-trotting a cappella quintet known as the Cultural Heritage Choir, which has recorded several CDs -- including children's records with Taj Mahal and Eric Bibb -- by drawing on the rich African and African-American musical trove. Celebrating Black History Month and the group's twelfth birthday, Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir sing Sunday at Berkeley's La Peña Cultural Center, featuring a bunch of fresh blues, spirituals, chants, and pop tunes to be recorded for a future live CD. $14-$16, 7 p.m. 510-849-2568 or www.lapena.org (Larry Kelp)

WEST AFRICAN FOLK

"Mellow" is the only word to describe the music and the attitude of the Palm Wine Boys. Palm-wine music was an early development in West African pop, marked by challenging acoustic guitar playing and an innate sense of swing, both of which are evident in this band's work, be it an old standard or one of their own frothy compositions. Thursday at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage. $15.50-$16.50, 8 p.m. 510-548-1761 or TheFreight.org (j. poet)

CLASSICAL

In the hands of Nic McGegan's Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Handel's rarely performed oratorio Samson (begun two weeks after he had completed Messiah) should prove a highlight of the choral season. This weekend's performance in Berkeley's First Congregational Church features a stellar lineup of soloists, headlined by baritone Sanford Sylvan, soprano Lisa Saffer, and tenor Mark Padmore. $28-$62, Saturday 7:30 pm, Sunday 7 p.m. 415-252-1288. (Jason Victor Serinus)

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