The Prince of Egypt
Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Dreamworks 50041)
Nashville (Dreamworks 50045)
Inspirational (Dreamworks 50050)
They don't make musicals like they used to.
Especially not cartoon musicals. Ever since Disney hit it big with "Beauty and the Beast" - the soundtrack to which augmented the original voice-actor versions of the big songs with pop star remakes - Hollywood has understood that what works on-screen doesn't necessarily translate to radio and MTV.
Even so, the separation between soundtrack and pop album has never been as pronounced as it is with "The Prince of Egypt." For this project - an ambitious, animated retelling of the story of Moses - the Dreamworks production team has generated three separate albums.
First, there's "Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack," which features actual songs from the film; then there's "The Prince of Egypt - Nashville," an album of country songs inspired by the film; and also "The Prince of Egypt - Inspirational," which puts a gospel-music spin on the story.
Why three albums? Marketing considerations seem the most likely culprit.
Obviously, an Old Testament tale like this has immediate appeal religious listeners of many stripes, but translating that into specific musical terms isn't quite as easy in a nation as diverse as this. By splitting the project between country and gospel music, "The Prince of Egypt" can appeal to both sides of the Bible Belt.
Of the two, the "Inspirational" album clearly has the most sizzle. Between Shirley Caesar's sanctified "Moses the Deliverer" and Kirk Franklin's rap-tinged "Let My People Go," the album has soul to spare. And with Take 6's silken harmonies on "Destiny" and the melodic ingenuity of "Everything In Between" by Jars of Clay, it also has more than its share of pop appeal.
There are also some great moments on the "Nashville" edition. Alison Krauss' "I Give You to His Heart" is uplifting in every sense of the term, while Faith Hill's "Somewhere Down the Road" is almost as catchy as "This Kiss" - and much better sung. Unfortunately, such highlights don't quite make up for the abundance of mediocrity on the album, from Wynonna's overblown "Freedom" to Charlie Daniels' bombastic "Could It Be Me."
Nor is the soundtrack itself any more consistent. Sure, the Whitney Houston/Mariah Carey duet on the title tune is a little cheesy, but it's still stirringly melodic (and wonderfully well-sung). And there are some strong songs from "Godspell" composer Stephen Schwartz, most notably "Through Heaven's Eyes."
But the contrast between Broadway-style production numbers and MTV-oriented pop tunes like K-Ci & Jo Jo's version of "Through Heaven's Eyes" is too jarring, making the album seem divided against itself. Could it be they should have cut a fourth album?
Original soundtrack: **
The Skin I'm In (ALCD 4859)
Bluesman Elvin Bishop has come a long way since his days as a 1960s guitar-slinger in Paul Butterfield's band and the Southern-fried boogie of his 1970s recordings. "The Skin I'm In" finds the singer-guitarist in an amiable mood, offering a dozen party-time tracks on which Bishop refuses to take himself - or the blues - too seriously. "Right Now Is the Hour" romps along, kicked into gear by fat, funky horns and ringing guitar. "That Train Is Gone" is a rollicking, Allmanesque charger. And "Slow Down" is a good-humored look at the joys and drawbacks of middle age. The highlight may be "Long Shadows," a slow blues that's backlit by Norton Buffalo's subtle, mournful harmonica, a hint of what lingers when the party candles burn low. ***
The Album (Kid Rhino/Ragdoll 75620)
Unless you're the parent of a toddler, odds are you either don't know the Teletubbies or don't know what to make of this peculiar kid-vid phenomenon. Nor is "Teletubbies: The Album" likely to help. If anything, this 14-song collection from the popular children's show will leave you even more puzzled by the appeal of these brightly-colored, elf-like creatures. Mixing infantile gurgling with New-Agey instrumentals, much of the album sounds like perfect (if perfectly boring) nursery fare. Things pick up a bit with the danceably daft "Teletubbies Say 'Eh-oh!' " (which was an actual British pop hit), but on the whole, if you're over 4 1/2, you're probably too old for this. **
Jacky Terrasson Trio
Alive (Blue Note 7243 8 59651)
Jacky Terrasson's latest offering, "Alive," opens with Mercer Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." What an understatement. This live recording captures the drama and passion of the 1993 winner of the prestigious Thelonious Monk Competition as he teams with two very inventive and intuitive jazz sidemen, drummer Leon Parker and bassist Ugonna Okegwo. Listen to the trio improvise in Cole Porter's "Love for Sale," or swing its way through Miles Davis' "The Theme." Terrasson, perhaps the best pianist of his generation, also knows how to squeeze every bit of emotion out of a tune. This is not background music, it's alive. ***
Americana (Columbia 69661)
Punk rock has always had its share of wisenheimers, but few have been quite as wise as the Offspring. While "Americana" has its share of serious message songs, from the raging "Have You Ever" to the pointed "The Kids Aren't Alright," its best moments are blessed with a broad, satirical streak. "Pretty Fly for a White Guy," which mercilessly lampoons Caucasian cluelessness, is the most obvious example, but hardly the only one, as both "Why Don't You Get a Job?" and "Pay the Man" match rapier wit with killer guitar rock. But for sheer hilarity, the album's most inspired moment comes with "Feelings," a thrash version of the '70s cheese classic that would leave Morris Albert mortified. ***
cleopatra: comin' atcha! (Maverick/Warner Bros. 46926)
Cleopatra is made up of three sisters: Cleopatra, Zainam and nTC Yonah Higgins. Their mother, Christine, sings background vocals. The group's release, "cleopatra : comin' atcha!", contains catchy lyrics and music that recall early works of the Jackson Five, Debbie Gibson and New Kids on the Block. Cleopatra should get credit for offering songs with positive messages; "Life Ain't Easy" could be an anthem for many who want to "make the world a better place." But Cleopatra's young voices sometimes come across as annoyingly tinny. Older listeners might appreciate some of the lyrics, but the bulk of the songs is geared toward a younger audience. Still, many listeners are bound to walk away humming a catchy tune or two. **
Human Being (Warner Bros. 46828)
There's something gloriously hermetic about the music Seal makes. Where other pop stars revel in the kind of collaboration that comes from working with a band, Seal conjures sounds that seem to have sprung directly from his psyche. As such, "Human Being" may take a few hearings to sink in, but don't worry - the album is worth it. As with his two self-titled albums, the sound of "Human Being" is wonderfully lush, overloaded with jangling guitars, burbling synths and swelling strings. But Seal isn't over-orchestrating; instead, this dense welter of sound grounds the vocals, providing enough emotional context to keep intensely personal songs like "Latest Craze" or "Lost My Faith" from seeming overly solipsistic. Definitely an album to get lost in. ***1/2
War & Peace: Vol. 1 (The War Disc) (Priority 50700)
Ice Cube has always come on hard on album, but never in quite as many ways as he does on "War & Peace: Vol. 1 (The War Disc)," the first part of an ambitious, two-album set (a second volume comes out next year). Sure he talks tough - he even tells the Angel of Death to get lost - but there's more to it than that. Cube is working with a broader musical palette, evoking a range of colors with both live instruments (hard rockers Korn sit in on "' Dying") and samples. Still, the best thing about the album is the way Cube articulates the rage of desperation, from baseball-based legal parable "3 Strikes You're In" to the wheelchair lament "Ghetto Vet." ***
* = poor
** = fair
*** = good
**** = excellent
Pub Date: 11/19/98