HERE IT IS
The Cover Girls (Epic 47381) It used to be that cover girls all had a sort of anonymous beauty, stressing well-formed features over individual personality. That's not the case in publishing these days, since today's magazines prefer the recognizable glamour of super-models like Cindy Crawford or Linda Evangelista, but the cult of anonymity still holds sway in dance music circles, as the Cover Girls album "Here It Is" makes plain. No matter how closely you listen to the well-polished performances collected here, it's impossible to get any sense of the women behind the voices -- or even of any differences between those voices. And while that doesn't diminish the melodic allure of "Wishing On a Star" or undo the danceable groove of "Funk Boutique," neither does it leave the listener with any reason to care about the Cover Girls or their music.
MECCA AND THE SOUL BROTHER
Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth (Elektra 60948)
It's easy for casual listeners to assume that the brains behind any rap act is the one doing the talking -- after all, he or she is the one most fans end up quoting or rapping along with, right? But because a rap recording is only as good as its groove, it's often the man behind the music who gets top billing. Take Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth as an example. While there's no faulting the rhymes Smooth drops on the duo's debut, "Mecca and the Soul Brother," his wry wordplay is rarely as eloquent as DJ Rock's rhythm tracks. Nor is that simply a matter of smart samples and fat beats, for Rock not only knows how to mix jazz, R&B; and reggae sound swatches into a seamless fabric, but expertly controls the rhythm's ebb and flow, giving these performances a vivacity rarely found in rap.
EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL
Everything But the Girl (Atlantic 82395)
It's often said that the truest test of any song is to see how well it holds up when performed with just voice and acoustic guitar. But as Everything But the Girl suggests, the same can be said for pop groups. It hardly matters whether this English duo is singing one of its own songs or covering somebody else's; every selection on the mostly-acoustic "Everything But the Girl" seems to sparkle, from the jazzy melancholy of "Driving" to the sweet understatement lent Bruce Springsteen's "Tougher Than the Rest." And by keeping the focus squarely on the songs, the duo does an excellent job of showcasing its own musical strengths.
RE-BIRTH OF THE COOL
Gerry Mulligan (GRP 9679)
Few things rankle traditionalists more than an attempt to remake a classic, but it would take quite a curmudgeon to complain about Gerry Mulligan's "Re-Birth of the Cool." For one thing, the baritone saxophonist was one of the participants in the original "Birth of the Cool" sessions, and understands what the music meant then as well as now; for another, he has taken pains to include many of the original players, and found near-ideal replacements for the others, from Wallace Roney (in for Miles Davis) to Phil Woods (subbing for Lee Konitz). And though this remake may not have the same sense of history the original did, it swings just as sublimely.