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Spinning the sweet sounds of romance


Valentine's Day albums? A few years ago, the idea seemed as laughable as Arbor Day cards. Not now, though. Go into any CD store, and if love isn't in the air, it's definitely in the bins. Here's a look at some of this year's offerings:

Ray Charles

"Love Songs" (Rhino 75572)

He may not be a deep-voiced loverman like Barry White or a swoony tenor like Andrea Boccelli, but few singers pack as much emotion into a love song as Ray Charles does. Spend some time with the 16 selections in "Love Songs," and you'll understand why. When a song calls for crooning, as in "Someday," Charles is as smooth as Billy Eckstine; but when raw emotion is in order, as on "I Can't Stop Loving You," he definitely lays his heart on the line. Play the album, and prepare to be smitten. ***1/2


Pop Romantique: French Pop Classics (Emperor Norton 7011)

If French is the language of love, doesn't it follow that French love songs would be especially lovely? That's the premise behind "Pop Romantique: French Pop Classics," an album that offers a sampling of hip underground pop acts rocking en francais. A few really rise to the challenge, as Air does a wonderfully understated "Jeanne" with Francoise Hardy, Heavenly is purringly intense through "Nous ne sommes pas des anges," and the criminally underrated Ivy shines in "L'anamour." Sadly, the other acts approach the album as if it were extra credit for French class. **

Miles Davis

Love Songs (Columbia/Legacy 65853)

Miles Davis may be best remembered now for his edgy, innovative work, but there was a time when he was considered one of jazz's great balladeers. "Love Songs" harks back to that era, with nine classic love songs performed by seven of Davis' ensembles. Some, such as "Stella By Starlight" (with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley) and "Someday My Prince Will Come" (with Coltrane and Hank Mobley) are certifiable classics; others, like "I Thought About You" and "Old Folks" (both with Mobley), are pleasantly sentimental surprises. A must for lovers who are also jazz lovers. ****

Now & Forever: Timeless Wedding Songs (Rhino 75610)

Forget Mendelssohn and Wagner -- when today's couples think wedding songs, they want something a little more meaningful and contemporary. They want songs like the ones on "Now & Forever: Timeless Wedding Songs." Admittedly, the selections are a bit heavy on the sentiment -- hearing Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack sing "Tonight I Celebrate My Love" will make you either swoon or gag -- but anyone with a heart will be moved by Gladys Knight's "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" or Heatwave's "Always and Forever." **1/2

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (MCA Impulse/Mobile Fidelity 47402)

It may not be a Valentine's Day album as such, but there is no more romantic a jazz album than "John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman." Playing off Hartman's deep, rich voice, the album catches Coltrane at his most tender and lyric. Though the selection tends to the overly emotional -- "You Are Too Beautiful," "My One and Only Love" -- the playing puts the songs in context, filling them with an aching intensity. Even better, the Mobile Fidelity remastering brings such luster to the vocals and saxophone, you'd swear Hartman and Coltrane were in the room with you. ****


Love Scene: Romantic Movie Music (Rhino 75570)

Reel Love: Great Romantic Movie Themes (Ryko 10742)

Because no romantic movie could succeed without a love theme, Hollywood has been home to a host of great love songs over the years. So why aren't there more of them on romantic movie compilation albums? "Love Scene: Romantic Movie Music" does have some solid recent hits, including Lisa Loeb's touching "Stay" and the Proclaimers' resilient "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)," but it -- like many movies -- relies too much on oldies that were hits before they were soundtrack items. Still, that's better than "Reel Love: Great Romantic Movie Themes," an orchestral compilation that seems romantic only if you have vivid memories of such films as "Gaily, Gaily" or "Buono Sera, Mrs. Campbell."

"Love Scene": ***

"Reel Love": *

Pub Date: 02/11/99

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