Stevie Nicks (Modern 91711)
Greatest hits albums usually aren't a great deal for devoted fans, who end up paying for a set of songs they already have just to hear one or two new ones. But "Timespace," Stevie Nicks' new best-of collection, actually seems to have been assembled with the long-term fan in mind. Sure, it's full of old favorites -- "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," "Talk to Me," "Rooms on Fire" -- but augments those songs with liner notes in which Nicks explains how each song came to be written, and for whom. And, as expected, there are also a couple new tunes, including the feisty, Bon Jovi-penned "Sometimes It's a Bitch" and a spirited collaboration with Poison's Bret Michaels called "I Can't Wait."
Garth Brooks (Capitol 96330)
What made "No Fences," Garth Brooks' last album, seem a cut above the rest was his writing, which at its best went beyond the usual cliches to bring something new to the Nashville sound. By contrast, what makes "Ropin' the Wind," Brooks' latest effort, seem such an improvement over its multi-platinum predecessor is the singing, for his brash, pull-out-the-stops delivery is what pushes his sometimes staid material to new heights. Granted, his enthusiasm isn't always appropriate, as when he sings with unseemly glee of the murderous jealousy in "Papa Loved Mama." But when his interpretations click, as they do on the simply stunning "Shameless," Brooks is a wonder to behold.
SET THE NIGHT TO MUSIC
Roberta Flack (Atlantic 82321)
The trouble with most "quiet storm" releases is that they offer too much quiet and not enough storm -- that is, their low-key sound seems totally lacking in energy and tension. That's why it's such a pleasure to hear an album like Roberta Flack's "Set the Night to Music." Gentle as the album's sound is, the performances are surprisingly intense, from Flack's intimately emotional duet with Maxi Priest on the title tune to her aching invocation of "Summertime" (not the Gershwin classic, but a lovely, little-know Leonard Cohen tune). Best of all is Flack's take on "Unforgettable," which moves beyond Natalie Cole's predictable nostalgia to pull something new from the song.
Tesla (Geffen 24424)
If you ignored the lyrics, Tesla's "Psychotic Supper" would seem a mighty fine album. After all, the guitar playing is great, the rhythm work is rock-solid, and singer J.K. is in splendid voice throughout. Better still, the music is hard-hitting and to the point, from the high-voltage hooks of "Edison's Medicine" to the richly melodic "Call It What You Want." But once you shift your focus from how those songs sound to what they say, "Psychotic Supper" becomes considerably less palatable, serving as it does course after course of indigestible cliche.