FOR THE BOYS
Original Soundtrack (Atlantic 82329)
Considering that Bette Midler built her reputation around sassy send-ups of big band-era songs, her musical contributions to the soundtrack album from "For the Boys" ought to show off all her strengths. And indeed, they do -- up to a point. Give her a ballad as brassy as "Come Rain or Come Shine" or an arrangement as understated as "In My Life," and she shines. But saddle her with second-rate songs or a third-rate duet partner -- in this case, actor and vocal non-entity James Caan -- and all visible signs of Midler's charm cloud over, leaving much of the album with little listener appeal.
HOWLIN' WOLF: THE CHESS BOX
Howlin' Wolf (Chess/MCA 9332)
Howlin' Wolf's background was pure Delta blues, as might be expected of a man who learned guitar from Charlie Patton and harmonica from Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson). But his sound was far more ferocious, so much so that even the best-known rock remakes of his work -- like Cream's version of "Spoonful," or the Rolling Stones' rethink of "The Red Rooster" -- seem almost timid when compared to the originals. With 75 selections, including rarities, outtakes and interview snippets, "Howlin' Wolf: The Chess Box" captures both the flavor of the man, and the fury of his music, making it essential listening for anyone interested in the blues.
MOON IN SCORPIO
The Family Stand (East/West 91803)
If all you know about the Family Stand is that this Brooklyn-based trio produced much of Paula Abdul's "Spellbound" album, you might think that the group's second album, "Moon In Scorpio," is given to similarly frothy dance pop. Think again. From the crunching guitars and funky groove of "New World Order" to the soulful harmonizing and jazzy piano of "Boom Shock," what the group actually offers is a meaty, muscular update on the sort of rock/funk fusion Sly & the Family Stone pioneered, rounded out with insightful message songs like "The Education of Jamie" and "Plantation Radio."
RISQUE RHYTHM: NASTY '50s R&B;
Various Artists (Rhino 70570)
Contrary to popular belief, "nasty" music wasn't invented by the 2 Live Crew; in fact, naughty novelty records have been around for decades. Still, the rock and roll era has produced more than its share of dirty ditties, 18 classic examples of which appear on "Risque Rhythm: Nasty '50s R&B.;" Although a few, like the Dominoes' "Sixty-Minute Man" or Bull Moose Jackson's notorious "Big Ten-Inch Record," are fairly well-known, the album's highlights include such near-forgotten numbers as the Bees' "Toy Bell" (which Chuck Berry remade as "My Ding-a-Ling"), Julia Lee's coy "My Man Stands Out" and Dinah Washington's deliciously bluesy "Big Long Slidin' Thing."