The Soundtrack (Def Jam 314 529 021)
What makes rap soundtrack albums so attractive is that they're nothing but singles -- a string of potential hits instead of the usual album array of two or three good tracks and a whole lot of filler. With "The Show" (the movie opens in theaters today), that ,, come-on is intensified by a lineup that looks like a Who's Who of modern hip-hop: Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre, 2Pac, the Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, Method Man, Warren G and A Tribe Called Quest, to name but a few. The album doesn't quite deliver what the marquee promises, since Dr. Dre, Slick Rick and Treach don't actually rap -- their tracks are just soundbites on the state of the music. Even so, there's far more gold than dross to be found here, thanks to Onyx's raucous, rambunctious "Live!!," Domino's funky, infectious "Domino's In the House," Tray D & So. Sentrelle's bass-pumping "Droppin Bombz" and A Tribe Called Quest's sly, insinuating "Glamour and Glitz." Definitely a show worth catching.
EXIT PLANET DUST
The Chemical Brothers (Astralwerks 61527)
A good beat may be the heart of a dance track, but interesting rhythm tracks are too often undone by lame raps or half-hearted vocal melodies. Not when the Chemical Brothers are around, though. This duo is at the forefront of Britain's "trip hop" movement, and the hypnotic, intensely rhythmic tracks they've created on "Exit Planet Dust" shows why. The album is virtually all groove -- a steady stream of thumping drums, loping bass and insinuating hooks -- and flows with inexorable momentum and organic logic of a great rave. Although none of the selections are songs in the traditional pop sense, there's a strong enough melodic cast to the looped guitar lines and artfully arrayed samples that it's hard not to hum along anyway. And because the Brothers take care to engage the ear as well as the body, "Exit Planet Dust" makes for rewarding listening even if you're not in a dancing mood.
GOOD NEWS IN HARD TIMES
The Sisters of Glory (Warner Bros. 45990)
Gospel music may be the root of soul singing, but it's a connection that rarely gets acknowledged outside of the church circuit. Fortunately, that's part of the "good news" being spread by the Sisters of Glory in "Good News in Hard Times." Obviously, the album's main thrust is spiritual, and the Sisters -- Thelma Houston, Cece Peniston, Phoebe Snow, Lois Walden and Albertina Walker -- sing the Lord's praises with equal amounts of skill and sincerity. But as they work their way through such standards as "Precious Lord," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "Surely God Is Able," it's hard not to notice how much bedrock soul there is in sacred music. Granted, the Sisters further that impression through adventurous arrangements that refit "I Love the Lord" as an Africanized chant, funk-up "How I Got Over" and set "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" to a spritely Afro-Brazilian pulse. But the bottom line is the singing, and with performances as fine as this, "Good News in Hard Times" should make a believer of anyone.
AFTER THE RAIN
John McLaughlin (Verve 314 527 467)
Of all the possible ways to pay tribute to John Coltrane, it's doubtful that too many musicians would have decided to make an organ trio album. But as unlikely as the format may be for John McLaughlin's "After the Rain," the results are surprisingly convincing. Some of that surely has to do with the lineup, which finds McLaughlin playing off the powerful polyrhythms of drummer Elvin Jones and making excellent use of underrated organist Joey DeFrancesco. But what ultimately carries the album has less to do with individual performers than with the tone they set together. Because "After the Rain" evokes the cool, soulful side of Coltrane's legacy, the three musicians are able to re-create the idiom of "Blue Train" and "Coltrane Plays the Blues" without actually imitating their sound. Thus, they can easily bring new insights to tunes like "Crescent" and "My Favorite Things" while still furthering the spirit of Coltrane himself.