TC KICKIN' IT UP
John Michael Montgomery (Atlantic 82559)
As much as John Michael Montgomery's voice evokes the soulful twang of John Anderson, it's hard to think of him as having quite the same sense of tradition -- particularly when so many of the songs on "Kickin' It Up" are driven by growling boogie guitar and a boot-stomping backbeat. Obviously, that isn't all Montgomery can do, for "I Swear" shows that he can pull pathos from a slow, sad tune and a heartbreak lyric. But his singing seems most alive when it's playing off a buoyant beat, and whether he's working a rhythm that's as strong and bluesy as the one in "Full-Time Love," or as rock-edged and aggressive as the title tune, there's a definite kick to Montgomery's delivery.
IT'S GOIN' DOWN
Ralph Tresvant (MCA 10889)
Back when it looked like everybody in New Edition was on his way to a platinum solo career, Ralph Tresvant seemed the underachiever of the group. Could it be he's just a late bloomer? Not only his is second album, "It's Goin' Down," far more assured than his first, but it offers a better balance between hard-core beats and old-style soul singing than anything other N.E. alums have done lately. Listen to his sweet-voiced exhortations on the title tune, and you'll swear you've found the R&B; hit Michael Jackson should have had with "Dangerous"; cue up "Who's the Mack," and it's as if your stereo has channeled the spirit of Marvin Gaye. Granted, Tresvant's material is a tad sex-obsessed -- titles include "Sex Maniac," "My Aphrodisiac" and "G-Spot" -- but his singing is seductive enough to keep those crotch-level lyrics from becoming annoying.
Cyrus Chestnutt (Atlantic Jazz 82518)
Some young jazz musicians arrive on the scene with great ideas but insufficient technique to pull them off; others turn up with chops galore, but nothing to say. Cyrus Chestnutt, on the other hand, has no shortage of either. A gifted pianist, the Baltimore native seems capable of almost anything on "Revelation," from feisty gospel flourishes to fiery McCoy Tyner pentatonics. Yet he manages to apply that awesome ability in ways that dazzle more for their musicality than for technical finesse. The carefully shaded subtle dynamics on "Sweet Hour of Prayer" perfectly frame its thematic development, while the lean, easy feel he lends "Dilemmas" belies the tune's rhythmic tension and harmonic complexity. Imagine a cross between Oscar Peterson's pianistic polish and Bill Evans' idiosyncratic imagination, and you'll have some sense of why Chestnutt has knocked the jazz world on its ear.
THE OTHER TWO & YOU
The Other Two (QWest 45140)
It's no accident that "The Other Two & You" sounds awfully like a New Order album. The Other Two, after all, are Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris -- New Order's synth whiz and drummer, respectively -- and the tuneful, melancholy dance-pop they deliver here is clearly cut from the same cloth as such New Order albums as "Technique" and "Republic." Granted, the lyrics are a bit on the bland side, and music does tend toward well-arranged entropy, particularly on such songs as "Movin' On" and "Innocent." But there's enough dance club canny to "Spirit Level" and "Loved It (The Other Track)" to keep the album from being a total disappointment.