Celine Dion (Epic 46893)
Even though Celine Dion built her reputation in French-speaking Canada, the sound that emerges on "Celine Dion" could have come from Montana or Madrid as easily as Montreal. How so? Because like Gloria Estefan or Roxette's Marie Frederiksson, Dion has a sort of universal pop voice; strong, confident and very slightly soulful, it is equally suited to big ballads and dance beats. Dion's American debut serves up both, naturally, and though it's easy enough to hear the appeal of slow, sentimental numbers like "Where Does My Heart Beat Now," the album is most bearable when serving up danceable fluff like "Love By Another Name."
Mr. Fiddler (Elektra 60959)
As much as rap records like Dela Soul's "Me, Myself & I" or Digital Underground's "Humpty Dance" have done to remind radio listeners of the greatness that was P-Funk, sampling those oldies isn't quite the same thing as carrying on the tradition. Which is why hard-core funk fans will rejoice at the sound of Mr. Fiddler's "With Respect." Anchored by Amp Fiddler and his brother, Bubz, Mr. Fiddler delivers the same sort of deep groove that was George Clinton's specialty (no surprise, considering that the Fiddlers and many of their playmates are Clinton alumni). Consequently, these tunes are built around beats other R&B; acts would have to sample, and that makes "With Respect" feel like the genuine article.
STRUCK BY LIGHTNING
Graham Parker (RCA 3013)
It used to be that rock and rollers held onto to their youth because they didn't know how to write songs about being grown up. Songwriters like John Hiatt and Chrissie Hynde have done a lot to change that, but as Graham Parker's "Struck By Lightning" demonstrates, singing about family responsibility and life in the suburbs has its own set of problems. Parker has a sharp eye for emotional detail, and adds a tremendous resonance to songs like "The Kid With the Butterfly Net" and "Ten Girls Ago." But as age dulls his rage, Parker's nasty songs have become merely grouchy, leaving him prone to pointless, Dylanesque rants like "She Wants So Many Things." And personally, I'd rather hear him complain about crab grass.
8 TRACK STOMP
Chicksaw Mudd Puppies (Wing/Mercury 843 935)
One reason pop connoisseurs adore the rawness of old country and blues recordings is that the lack of studio polish makes the music so much more immediate. But there's a big difference between real roots music and the sort of self-conscious primitivism affected by groups like the Chicksaw Mudd Puppies. Although "8 Track Stomp" is full of fine players (including blues legend Willie Dixon and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe) and good intentions, the music it presents is hokey and hollow, doggedly pursuing the mannerisms of folk music without capturing any of its essence.