Houston masters the national anthem and 'America the Beautiful'



Whitney Houston (Arista single 2207)

Contrary to popular belief, our national anthem is not unsingable.But because it places such extraordinary demands on a voice, onlythe most accomplished singers ever shine while performing it. Whichis why Whitney Houston's rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner"seems so exciting -- she sails effortlessly through the song,managing its lengthy phrases and awkward intervals with the utmostease. Still, the best part of this single has to be its B side, aRay Charles-inspired interpretation of "America the Beautiful"that ranks among Houston's most soulful recordings.


Boy George (Virgin 91596)

Boy George has endured plenty of abuse over the years, but the onething he could never be called was boring. Until "The MartyrMantras," that is. Although the album breaks no new groundmusically -- the songs are little more than pro forma acid houseworkouts -- it does open new vistas in tedium, clocking in at 70minutes but seeming several years longer. Interestingly, it isn'tthe Boy's new-found spirituality that sinks the album (despite thesanctimonious twaddle of "Bow Down Mister" and "Generations ofLove") so much as the singing, which reduces George's lithe,soulful voice to a monotonous rasp. Pray you can avoid this one.


Ross Traut/Steve Rodby (Columbia 46137)

There has always been an element of conversation in great jazzduets, a sense that each musician can add something to the thoughtsof the other, but such interplay is only part of the necessarychemistry. After all, what good is a conversation unless you havesomething interesting to talk about? That's why, when guitaristRoss Traut and bassist Steve Rodby teamed up for "The Duo Life,"they were wise to pack a good set of songs. After all, what makesthis album sparkle isn't the way Rodby's dark, probing bass linespush Traut's lean, lyrical solos to their conclusion, but thattunes like "Fall" or "People Make the World Go Round" give thetwo such a terrific starting point.


Chicago (Reprise 26391)

When you get right down to it, the most amazing thing about Chicagoisn't that the group has been churning out albums for 22 years now, butthat anyone still cares. It isn't that their albums are boring,although the latest, "Twenty 1," is such an efficient soporificit's a wonder it can be sold without a prescription. Rather, it'sthat Chicago has turned into a band with no real sound of its own.Skim through "Twenty 1" (you may want to make some strong coffeefirst), and the music seems oddly vaporous, with anonymous singers,forgettable arrangements, and melodies that seem to evaporatebefore reaching your ear. Could this be the first stealth popgroup?

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