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Review: Sugarland grows creatively on new CD

Sugarland, "The Incredible Machine" (Mercury)

Sugarland stake their ground as country music's most creatively ambitious million-selling act by opening their album, "The Incredible Machine," with a U2-like overture leading into the first song, "All We Are," which manages to be both catchy and progressive. Then when guitarist Kristian Bush mimics U2 guitarist The Edge's hypnotic guitar riffs on the title cut, both the band's influences and their grand aspirations are laid bare.

Like fellow Georgians R.E.M., whom singer Jennifer Nettles and partner Bush often cover live, Sugarland aims for a middle ground between high-brow explorations and low-brow mass appeal. Even the most blatantly commercial cuts, like the first hit "Stuck Like Glue," includes a reggae breakdown and a percussive rhythm no other country stars would dare.

At heart, Nettles and Bush remain a stirring commercial pop-country act; the emotional ballad "Tonight" and the anthemic "Stand Up" rank with the best Music Row has to offer. But they continue to challenge themselves and their audiences with songs like the new wave-influenced "Find The Beat Again" and the far-reaching "Shine The Light."

Those who think country acts must stay down-home in sound and theme won't relate with "The Incredible Machine." But those open to new sounds and ideas will be exhilarated by Sugarland's one-of-a-kind blend of joyful melodies and heady musical arrangements.

CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: On "Little Miss," an acoustic song that shifts into fist-pumping chorus, Nettles encourages a struggling young woman to consider her quirks as individuality rather than problems to hide.


Rapper T.I. comeback could be derailed with arrest

After finishing a sentence for weapons charges earlier this year, T.I. was poised to have the comeback of the fall.

The multiplatinum rapper starred in the nation's No. 1 movie, recently married his longtime girlfriend, taped a music special for VH1 and was wrapping up a new album. But after an arrest Wednesday in California, there are questions about whether he's returning to the music charts — or prison.

The Grammy-winning hitmaker, who is on three years of probation, was taken into custody with wife Tameka "Tiny" Cottle on suspicion of possessing methamphetamines after police pulled over their Maybach in West Hollywood. They were released on $10,000 bail early Thursday.

While charges have yet to be filed, the case has the potential to put one of music's top names in behind bars yet again.

"We're not making any observations at this time," said Ed Garland, a defense attorney for T.I. "This is an unfortunate occurrence, and we do not know what the outcome will be."

His music label, Atlantic Records, also said it "would be premature to speculate about the current situation given that there is an ongoing investigation of this matter."

Known as the "King of the South," T.I is a top name in hip-hop, and pop. Born as Clifford Harris, he sold millions of albums since his debut and racked up hits like "Whatever You Like" and "U Don't Know Me." He also had top collaborations with artists including Rihanna, Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake.

But his celebrated career was put in jeopardy in 2007 when he was caught trying to buy semiautomatic weapons on the way to a BET Awards show. The Atlanta rapper, who has served time for drug and other offenses, pleaded guilty to weapons charges and served seven months in an Arkansas prison and three months in a halfway house in Georgia.

He was ordered not to commit another federal, state or local crime while on supervised release, or to illegally possess a controlled substance. He was also told to take at least three drug tests after his release and to participate in a drug and alcohol treatment program.

T.I. didn't appear to need government intervention to stay out of trouble. The rapper talked of a new, positive start: He spoke to kids about the dangers of drugs and guns, and former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young was one of his supporters. As he prepared for his most recent sentence, the rapper starred in the MTV reality show, "T.I.'s Road to Redemption: 45 Days to Go."

"Right now, it's all about moving forward and just acknowledging the blessing that are here today. ... Just moving past the regrets of yesterday — the things that could've been done better," T.I. told The Associated Press in July.

After his release, he wasted little time returning to the spotlight. He released new music and was one of the stars of "Takers," a shoot-'em-up about an armored truck robbery that goes bad. He is working on an album, which was slated to come out this year, and last month, he taped a VH1 "Storytellers" performance.

T.I. also married Cottle, the former singer for the 1990s R&B group Xscape; she has found new fame as the star of the BET reality show "Tiny & Toya."

Cottle took to her Twitter on Thursday, thanking fans for support and prayers. "We love u guys:) going 2bed now! So glad 2b n a nice clean bed," she wrote.

A representative for VH1 said it was too early to determine how his arrest might affect the upcoming special. A representative for "Takers" did not immediately return a request for comment.

T.I.'s probation officer has asked him to return to Atlanta, said Don Samuel, one of T.I.'s attorneys. He said it was unclear when T.I. would return to his hometown.

U.S. Attorney Sally Yates, Atlanta's top federal law enforcement official, said she would not speculate on what could happen to Harris. "The probation office is in the process of determining what happened and will make a recoendation regarding Mr. Harris when they have all the facts," she said.

His probation officer can recommend that the terms of the rapper's probation be changed, such as to require that he take more drug counseling classes and undergo more frequent drug tests. Or the officer could ask the judge to revoke the rapper's probation, which was set to end in 2013. That could lead to a prison sentence.

The decision would be made by U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell Jr., who presided over the original case.

Dwight Thomas, another T.I. lawyer, also stressed it was too early to determine the impact of the arrest. "We don't have a full grasp of the facts circumstances. We don't know the violation," he said. "I will remain optimistic until this matter is favorably resolved."

Young, who is an ordained minister, married Harris and Cottle last month in Miami. He said T.I. has made "marvelous progress" and that he is a good father and partner.

He also was skeptical about the charges against the rapper and the circumstances of the arrest.

"I assume that you're innocent until you're proven guilty," Young told The AP in a telephone interview. "If he was driving and smoking marijuana, that is absolutely stupid. But why was he pulled over in the first place? Because he had a Maybach? Because he was black? Because they know who he is and resent his success?"

Young said his advice to Harris has been focused on violence, not drug use.

"We never talked about drugs," Young said, but added: "Maybe I should have."


Associated Press writers Errin Haines, Greg Bluestein and Jonathan Landrum Jr. in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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#yn-dailybeast-banner img { display:block; }Is Clinton's CGI the New U.N.?

NEW YORK – Just up the road from the sonorous U.N. general assembly, the former president's Global Initiative—rife with deal making power players—could one day eclipse the older institution.

The United Nations General Assembly kicks off today, bringing together leaders of 192 countries.

But just west of it, a competing summit will bring together thought-leaders from across the globe to tackle many of the same problems that are on the table at Turtle Bay. And even President Obama will make an appearance.

The Clinton Global Initiative, now in its sixth year, will feature Nobel laureates, CEOs, presidents, and a trio of first ladies—making it seem like a 21st century initiative that could ultimately eclipse the older institution. CGI is fast building a track record that has some wondering if its leaner model may be the better way to address the multitude of problems facing the global community.

All it needs is a standing army.

"Most U.N. organizations concern themselves with setting global policy," says Paul Farmer, the celebrated activist and director of Partners in Health who has been involved with CGI since its inception. "But what happens at CGI is the nitty-gritty of deal-making between philanthropists and the people who get it done."

The U.N. may have the advantages of age (it's almost 65 years old,) a charter, a 120,000-member army, a $4.2 billion budget (excluding peace-keeping operations,) a secretariat with about 40,000 employees, and stylishly appointed headquarters with to-die-for river views. But it is also littered with problems, both real and perceived.

Last year's U.N. summit on climate change in Copenhagen devolved into a chaotic standoff between developing countries and wealthy nations—producing a nonbinding document that many climate experts described as more than disappointing. Likewise, the U.N. shoulders some of the world's largest responsibilities for treating HIV/AIDS, but took years to embrace best practices on prevention.

This year's general assembly focuses on the Millennium Development Goals, the organization's ambitious blueprint on how to fight poverty, poor health and poor education—and has once again opened the organization to the criticism that there's too much talking, not enough doing. Even U.N. officials acknowledge that the goals are off track and behind schedule, and that the official document to be presented at the MDG summit represents a watered-down version of important commitments, with the wealthier G8 countries offering less financial assistance than antipoverty advocates would like.

Watch the Clinton Global Initiative Live

"There's a lot of worthy language in this document about promoting development in poor countries," says Emma Seery, a spokesperson for hunger relief organization Oxfam, "But embarrassingly little on what actions leaders will take to actually achieve the millennium development goals."

By contrast, the CGI requires every delegate to make a commitment to take action—leading to windfalls like Richard Branson's 2006 pledge of $3 billion for adaptation to the threat of climate change. CGI wants to bring together leaders from government, civil society and big business—from all parts of the political spectrum. And rather than formal diplomatic dialogue, the CGI conversations are driven by sometimes-odd pairings.

This year, Actor Ashton Kutcher will talk Twitter with Sudanese telecom mogul Mohammed Ibrahim; World Bank Managing Director and former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Iweala will talk entrepreneurship with former White House green jobs czar Van Jones, and a swarm of "ex-everybodies" will bring to bear lessons from inside and outside of government.

"I came in a skeptic—how does this work exactly?" says Farmer, adding that to watch Bill Clinton and his Initiative in action changed his mind. "The biggest post-earthquake project to be launched is the hospital we're launchi in central Haiti," he says, "and the first donation that ever came through was from sitting in a chair next to someone at CGI."

"One of the key features of CGI is the notion that the problems facing us are too big for any piece of the economy or any single organization to take on," says Bracken Hendricks, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and an energy expert who has helped to coordinate Clinton's initiative since the beginning. "There's the ability to bring together a really complex set of conversations between people who otherwise wouldn't be talking."

At CGI, the magic "happens in the hallways," says Hendricks. He points to a 2005 encounter between Brad Pitt, Steven Bing and architect Bill McDonough. Just a month after Hurricane Katrina, the three men joined a CGI panel that ended up launching Pitt's "Make it Right" initiative in New Orleans –a program that has made the city's Lower Ninth Ward one of the largest concentrations of green buildings in the country.

Similarly, a 2008 CGI conversation led Newark Mayor Corey Booker to begin a project of green urban renewal that "wouldn't have happened without CGI," says Hendricks. "Booker wouldn't have had access to this network of global thought leaders."

This year, Actor Ashton Kutcher will talk Twitter with Sudanese telecom mogul Mohammed Ibrahim; World Bank Managing Director and former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Iweala will talk entrepreneurship with former White House green jobs czar Van Jones.

Some of the U.N.'s trouble stems from its many cooks. The 192 member states can only agree on the most obvious of policy proposals—say, primary education for all. What's more, the recession has rocked its budget, making it difficult to achieve the goals set out years before. But the more fundamental problem, in the U.S. at least, is not money but rather what can best be described as an "enthusiasm gap."

Clinton: Helping At Home and Abroad

Clinton also appeared on , where he discussed his , saying that in addition to helping end poverty worldwide, this year the foundation would also “try to spend more time on the domestic needs.” See full interview below.

When Anita Sharma, a representative for the U.N. Millennium Campaign, visited a congressman on Capitol Hill recently, the representative asked this about the MDG: "Isn't that a beer?" (He was thinking of MGD—Miller Genuine Draft.)

"The U.N. has so many agencies," says Jeffrey Sachs, a development economist who has worked closely with the U.N. on the goals, and has advocated that focused initiatives like the Global Fund be used to avoid the worst of the U.N. bureaucracy. Still, Sachs does not believe that private organizations can save the world: "To pretend it can be done by business or less is to leave people to die."

Certainly the U.N. General Assembly, "can use its legitimacy to create political momentum around big causes and, in so doing, help to lever cash from governments," says Michael Green, co-author of Philanthrocapitalism. But CGI "is much more practical and action-oriented than the U.N.," he adds. "The real opportunity is building an effective partnership between the two."

CGI also works with the U.N. at times—particularly on women's issues, where partnership with UNICEF, the UN Population Fund and UNAIDS has been fruitful. But in the end the UN is "a bunch of academic, nerdy policy people," says Farmer. "And I say that as an academic nerdy policy person."

The U.N.'s strengths remain standard-setting, and creating favorable policy environments to fight poverty and other global problems. But its waning influence may be the natural feature of globalization: "The diffusion into more accessible and actionable activities is a growing element of a much more decentralized world," says John MacArthur of the U.N.'s Millennium Promise campaign. The entire U.N. week, he says, produces "a community of communities working on pieces of the goals."

"Every September has been an extraordinary experience in terms of coming together with very out-of-the box thinkers, people who are not afraid to innovate and move forward," says Molly Melching, director of Tostan, an NGO in Senegal that works with both UNICEF and CGI. "President Clinton took what other people were saying—that businesses are bad and doing horrible things and said, 'Let's look at them as being potential do-gooders.'… That attitude has really changed social norms for big business; they feel that it's a responsibility to get involved in world affairs."



<a href="" mce_href="">Is the U.N. too bureaucratic to do its job?</a>  

Dayo Olopade is a political reporter for The Daily Beast and a Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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