LUCK OF THE DRAW
Bonnie Raitt (Capitol 96111)
After getting married, winning a bunch of Grammys and enjoying the comeback of a lifetime with her last album, some fans may wonder what Bonnie Raitt would have to be blue about these days. Of course, it has never been true that only unhappy people sing the blues, but those needing proof need look no further than Raitt's new album, "Luck of the Draw." Like "Nick of Time," Raitt's "Luck" leaves little to chance; the musicians are first-rate, the songs top-drawer, and the production is smooth without ever seeming slick. But when it comes to establishing a groove, this album improves significantly on its predecessor, fleshing out the likes of "Tangled and Dark" or "Good Man, Good Woman" with rhythm work that's too soulful and confident to be simply a matter of luck.
DERELICTS OF DIALECT
3rd Bass (Def Jam/Columbia 47369)
When the members of 3rd Bass make fun of alleged rap star Vanilla Ice, it isn't because they think white people shouldn't rap. After all, 3rd Bass' MC Serch and Prime Minister Pete Nice are themselves of the Caucasian persuasion. Instead, their complaint is more basic; as the rap "Ace In the Hole" puts it, "Ice, Ice Baby/ No soul, no soul." Fortunately for 3rd Bass, that's not a charge anyone would ever level against "Derelicts of Dialect." There are plenty of dope beats and smart samples here, from the coy Miles Davis quote that opens the album to the "Sledgehammer"-meets-"You Haven't Done Nothin" groove of "Pop Goes the Weasel." But what ultimately gives this crew the edge is its wonderful wordplay, whether saying something as pointed and serious as "Microphone Techniques" or as good-natured and goofy as "Al'z A-B-Cee'."
Natalie Cole (Elektra 61049)
A lot of kids want to grow up to be just like their daddies, but few ever take it to the extreme Natalie Cole does with "Unforgettable." This isn't just an update of songs once sung by her father, the late Nat "King" Cole, but a painstaking attempt to recapture the sound and feel of the originals, even to the point of using the original arrangements (by Johnny Mandel, Michel Legrand and others) wherever possible. Yet for all its obvious fidelity, the younger Cole's performance rarely comes across as slavish imitation. Apart from the title tune, which dubs her voice over his for an eerie "duet," most of the album finds Natalie Cole sounding almost as unforgettable as her father.
Heavy D. & the Boyz (MCA 10289)
Because the raps on Heavy D.'s debut focused largely on dancing or romancing, the self-proclaimed "overweight lover" initially seemed something of a lightweight. Not any more, though. Although "Peaceful Journey," Heavy D. & the Boyz's sophomore effort, has its share of shallow rhymes, it also has some serious messages, ranging from the socially conscious "Letter to the Future" to the sarcastic censorship number "Don't Curse." Of course, the bulk of the album is still given over to raps that are more catchy than contemplative, but so long as the Hevster can keep serving up singles as infectious as "Now That We Found Love," he'll get no complaints from me.