Deep Forest (550 Music/Epic 67115)
What's the difference between worldbeat and world music? Simple. World music is pure in its exoticism, staying true to the culture and traditions that created it. Worldbeat, on the other hand, is cosmopolitan and eclectic, drawing from world music but tailoring its source material to meet more modern needs. That may make the music seem cheap and artificial, but not always; at its best, worldbeat can sound as fresh and exciting as the music on Deep Forest's new album, "Boheme." This French duo maintains the melodic and emotional integrity of its folk voices even as it surrounds them with swirling, burbling synths and thumping, electronic beats. It helps, of course, that their JTC taste in vocalists is exquisite -- "Marta's Song," for instance, mixes the Hungarian chanteuse Marta Sebestyen with aboriginal singers from Taiwan -- but their real genius lies with being able to create a whole new world of sound for those voices. Ultimately, that is what makes "Boheme" worth visiting.
NO SE PARECE A NADA
Albita (Crescent Moon/Epic 66966)
Even if you don't speak a word of Spanish, all it takes is a single spin through Albita's "No Se Parece a Nada" to realize that its title is exactly right -- she really is "Unlike Anything Else." Although this 33-year-old has been a star in her native Cuba since 1988, it wasn't until she defected and moved to Miami in 1993 that many Americans had a chance to appreciate just how special her music is. What made her a sensation at home was the way she brought a sense of folk roots back into the sophisticated, urban sound of salsa. Knowledgeable listeners will surely appreciate the depth and originality of songs like "Que Culpa Tengo Yo" and "Mi Guaguanco." But even if all you know about Afro-Cuban music is the beat, you'll be impressed with the rhythmic immediacy of her music, and mesmerized by the passion and authority of her singing. Rest assured: Talent like this needs no translation.
Teenage Fanclub (DCC 24802)
If what you want from an alternative rock act is jangly guitars and jokey songtitles, then Teenage Fanclub's your band. Not only does "Grand Prix," the Scots quartet's latest, come equipped with guitar sound that covers everything from the Big Star strum of "About You" to the Byrdsian arpeggios of "Verisimilitude," but it boasts titles as laugh-out-loud funny as "Neil Jung." Trouble is, those strengths are all surface, and there's almost never anything underneath. "Neil Jung," for instance, doesn't really say anything about either the Canadian songwriter or the Swiss psychologist, while there's nothing in the powerpop chorus of "Disco- lite" to justify its title. That's not to say the album is without its charms, as both the buoyant chorus to "Don't Look Back" and the Beatlesque bridge to "I'll Make It Clear" are enough to make any listener forgive the band's occasional compositional sloppiness and conceptual overreach. On the whole, though, "Grand Prix" is hardly the prize it pretends to be.
Alison Moyet (Columbia 67278)
In a fair world, Alison Moyet's new album wouldn't be called "Singles" -- it would be called "Hits." Even though few of the 20 tunes collected here ever got much of a shot on American radio, nearly all sound like they deserved at least a shot at the top of the charts. The album covers quite a bit of ground, including Moyet's days with Yaz (including "Only You" and the haunting "Winter Kills"), all four of her solo albums, and a handful of previously unreleased tracks. But the most interesting thing about the album is its depth, not its breadth. It isn't just that Moyet bridges the gap between synthpop and soul better than anybody in the business; she commits herself to her material so completely that hearing her is almost like facing some force of nature: It's hard to believe such power could be so beautiful. That's why songs like "Love Resurrection," "Invisible," "Weak in the Presence of Beauty" and "Whispering Your Name" seem as potent today as when they were new -- and why it's never too late to catch up with this singer's work.