Deuces Wild (MCA 17112)
All-star duet albums may be more common in country music than in the blues, but B.B. King's hometown of Memphis is close enough to Nashville to make his use of the gimmick on "Deuces Wild" perfectly appropriate. For one thing, King's guitar and voice are distinctive enough to hold their own even against the likes of Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones; for another, he has influenced enough rockers over the years to be )) deserve such a high-profile show of respect. And it is quite a show of respect, what with Clapton burning bright against King's searing leads on "Rock Me Baby," or Charlie Watts providing a perfect jump blues pulse when King joins the Stones for "Paying the Cost to Be the Boss." But as much fun as it is to hear him trading licks with the likes of Clapton and Raitt, some of the album's finest moments are also among its most surprising. Who would have thought that Tracy Chapman could lay into the bittersweet blues of "The Thrill Is Gone" with such authority? How many country fans would have guessed that Marty Stuart would sing the blues even better than he does bluegrass? Even the rap-based "Keep It Coming," with Heavy D, works better than expected. Guess some old dogs really can learn new tricks.
Harlem World (Bad Boy 73017)
Perhaps the best thing about MaSe's solo debut, "Harlem World," is that it sounds pretty much exactly like what his work with Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs would have left listeners expecting. Unfortunately, that's also the worst thing about the album. MaSe comes across as eternal sidekick, lucky enough to have his moment in the spotlight, but not blessed with enough talent to hold it. Fortunately, these tracks rely so heavily on borrowed hits -- Kool & the Gang's "Hollywood Swinging" beneath "Feel So Good," Rose Royce's "Ooh Boy" behind "Luv You So," and Peter Brown's "Do You Wanna Get Funky" below "Do You Wanna Get S" -- that the hooks work no matter how half-hearted the rapping seems. And frankly, half-hearted is the best MaSe can manage. His flow is lax, his wordplay weak (really now, rhyming "manana" with "enchilada"?), and his attitude even more second-hand than the hooks. But the scariest thing about the album isn't how easily MaSe is upstaged by guest stars Puff Daddy, Lil' Kim and Busta Rhymes; it's that MaSe's singing on "Jealous Guy" proves that rap really is his forte.
All That Matters (Columbia 68510)
Anyone who thought that Michael Bolton's ultimate aim was to oversing R&B; oldies is clearly mistaken. Because as "All That Matters" makes plain, his true goal was to make lousy Luther Vandross albums. From the album-opening "Safe Place from the Storm" to the final chorus of "Pleasure or Pain," Bolton pursues precisely the sort of sound Vandross made his name with, all slick grooves, high-gloss harmony vocals and semi-crooned intimations of sincerity. Trouble is, Bolton's mannered delivery is even less convincing than Vandross', making most of "Matters" almost impossible to swallow. As much as there is to like about these songs -- and from the lithe, soulful chorus of Babyface's "The Best of Love" to the easy-going verses of Tony Rich's "Fallin'," there are some first-rate tunes here -- Bolton's unnecessarily showy delivery makes even the strongest of hooks hard to swallow. That's not to say he doesn't occasionally find his groove -- "Forever's Just a Matter of Time" is kept close enough to simmer to make its sweet sentiments wholly convincing -- but for every smart move there's something as egregiously overdone as the treacly "Go the Distance."
Deconstructed (Interscope 90161)
Remix albums generally say so much more about the mixers than the original material that it's almost misleading to put the original artist's name above the title. That's not quite the case with the Bush remix album, "Deconstruction." Granted, Bush as a band is barely in evidence, as the original guitar, bass and drum tracks have mostly been replaced by drum machine and synths. But Gavin Rossdale's voice comes through loud and strong -- so much so, in fact, that the album ought to give his critics reason to reconsider. When the band first broke big, the most common complaint about them was that Rossdale was little more than a Kurt Cobain wannabe, a view the band's grunge-and-groan sound did little to dispel. Strip away the guitars, however, and Rossdale's torture tenor not only loses its Cobain echo, but takes on a certain arch soulfulness. Granted, a lot of that has to do with the context. The "Lhasa Fever Mix" of "Everything Zen" effectively boils the vocal down to its essence while amplifying its nervous energy, while Goldie's remix of "Swallowed" so completely reconfigures the song that all we get are a few lyrics and an overarching sense of anxiety. But even when the mixer makes Bush minor players in their own music (as Jack Dangers does in "Insect Kin"), the overall sound is so compelling it's doubtful that even the band minds.
Pub Date: 11/20/97