ALWAYS Pebbles (MCA 10025)
If producers L.A. and Babyface are the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis of West Coast R&B;, then Pebbles is their Janet Jackson. Good as the analogy is, though, it isn't enough to make "Always" the California equivalent of Jackson's "Rhythm Nation." Granted, this album does boast a similar assortment of issue-oriented dance songs ("Say a Prayer for Me") and gooey love ballads ("Why Do I Believe"). But instead of the muscular insistence of Jackson's music, Pebbles prefers a softer sell, one which takes its strength from subtle soulfulness. And while that hardly keeps the singer from getting nasty when need be -- notice how easily she keeps pace with Salt-N-Pepa on "Backyard" -- it makes for enticingly understated pop.
LISTEN WITHOUT PREJUDICE,VOL. 1
George Michael (Columbia 46898)
Back when George Michael was largely known for lyrics like "Wake me up before you go-go," the idea of treating him as a serious artiste seemed almost laughable. Not any more, though. "Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1" is the sort of album that wears its furrow-browed intensity as a badge of honor as it turns the world's problems into pop songs. Yet for all his ambition, Michael mostly avoids trying to save the world with a catchy chorus; instead, what he offers is a mix of melody and empathy as he delivers songs that are as tuneful as they are reflective. Which, frankly, is a better deal for all concerned, since his music is invariably better than his advice.
Los Lobos (Slash/Warner Bros. 26131)
Thanks to Spanish-language efforts like "La Bamba" and "La Pistola y el Corazon," a lot of listeners think of Los Lobos as Hispanic rockers, first and foremost. Think again. As the rootsy diversity of "The Neighborhood" makes plain, Los Lobos is at home with a multitude of musical styles, from the snarling blues of "I Walk Alone" to the country stomp of "Deep Dark Hole," to the Cajun two-step of "The Giving Tree." In other words, the band's music isn't Mexican-American rock, it's just American.
Mojo Nixon (Enigma 73529)
In interviews, Mojo Nixon has said that his solo album "Otis" is dedicated to a variety of Otises (Otii?), ranging from R&B; legend Otis Redding to blues great Otis Rush to rock pioneer Otis Blackwell. But the Otis this album most clearly resembles is the Otis Elevator, because these songs really go up and down. There are laughs to be had in "Perry Mason of Love" or "Put a Sex Mo-Sheen In the White House," though not as many as Nixon seems to think, while such songs as "I Wanna Race Bigfoot Trucks" and "Took Out the Trash and Never Came Back" are only as amusing as their titles. Still, any album that would include the likes of "Destroy All Lawyers" and the infamous "Don Henley Must Die" has to be worth at least a couple of listens.