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The XXL African-American gent who fronts pop-rock smarties the Negro Problem and records alt-cabaret songs under the chummy moniker Stew has an incredibly, er, black sense of humor for someone whose songs often recall lite-rock icon Bread. But Stew’s latest finds his heart overtaking his sense of absurdity. ”Love is not the instrument of pain,” he advises on the song of the same name, ”it’s your own mind,” while ”The Statue Song” turns a high school English exercise (”Write from the perspective of an inanimate object”) into a blue ballad about stasis and homesickness. YES, HE’S GOOD EW named Stew’s last two LPs Albums of the Year; how many times must you be told?

Originally posted October 17 2003 — 12:00 AM EDT

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