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Actress Jennifer Lopez can sing, but it isn't enough

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Jennifer Lopez

On the 6 (Work 69351)

Pop stars who aspire to acting may invite snickers, but few things in the entertainment world invite as much outright derision as actors-turned-singers.

Over the years, countless movie and TV stars have cut records, from Johnny Depp and Cybill Sheppard to Don Johnson and Jennifer Love Hewitt. And in almost every case, the music-buying public's reaction to those efforts has been: "Don't quit your day job."

Jennifer Lopez doesn't quite fit that model. For starters, she was a singer and dancer before she became an actress (her first big break was as one of the dancers on the comedy show "In Loving Color"), and she made her name in movies by singing the title role in "Selena."

More to the point, "On the 6" makes it clear she can sing. Lopez has no trouble handling the material presented to her, from the hip-hop pop of "Feelin' So Good" to the slow-simmering funk of "If You Had My Love," and from the smoldering balladry of "No Me Ames" to the propulsive, party-hearty salsa of "Let's Get Loud." No doubt about it, as a singer, Lopez has a lot of talent and stylistic range.

If only she had more personality.

On the big screen, in roles like Karen Sisco in "Out of Sight," Lopez radiates singularity, coming across as complex, personable and utterly credible. On album, however, she seems strangely anonymous, a pop cipher who understands how to deliver the lines but can't quite coax a sense of character from them.

Instead, she ends up doing impressions, singing as other, more distinctive, performers might have. So when producer Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs fabricates a lush, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis-type groove, she responds by offering her best Janet Jackson imitation. When Emilio Estefan pumps up the Latin dance pulse on "Let's Get Loud," Lopez comes off like the Miami Sound Machine-era Gloria Estefan. And when she rides the thumping house groove of "Waiting for Tonight," she sounds astonishingly like Madonna.

It isn't as if Lopez is merely a chameleon, without a sound to call her own. Her breathily romantic duet with Marc Anthony, the Spanish-language love song "No Me Ames," reveals depths and resonance unheard in other tracks. Likewise, there's a sassy confidence beneath the romantic dismissal of "It's Not That Serious" that suggests Lopez may yet attain the awesome power of diva-hood.

At the same time, it's hard to believe that a woman of such sultry sensuality could make a come-on song like "Open Off My Love" seem so unalluring. Lopez may yet turn into a first-rate pop star, but for now, the best that can be said is that she sings really well -- for an actress. **1/2

J.D. Considine

Pop/rock

Jimmy Buffett

Beach House on the Moon (Margaritaville/Island 314 524 660)

Because he's so well known for the wry humor and party-time atmosphere of his live shows, it's easy to assume that Jimmy Buffett is just a novelty-song slinger. And, to be fair, there are plenty of yucks to be had from "Beach House on the Moon." But while the album doesn't shy away from obvious jokes or raucous, rabble-rousing sing-alongs like "I Will Play for Gumbo," its emphasis is on strong, smart singer/songwriter fare. Granted, some of that comes from other writers, as with Bruce Cockburn's beautiful, evocative "Pacing the Cage" or John D. Loudermilk's sly, witty "You Call It Jogging."

But Buffett's own songs, like the album's title tune, are equally rich, balancing whimsy and sentiment as gracefully as any songwriter now practicing. ***

-- J.D. Considine

Rick Springfield

Karma (Platinum 15095 9561)

Age has been kind to Rick Springfield. Still a pretty-faced, guitar-stroking singer-songwriter, he's evolved into a mature musician. After a 10-year hiatus from the music biz, he's come out with "Karma," a solid release with lyrics from an aging musician's mentality and guitar chops from a kid half his age. Riffs on "In Veronica's Head" will take devotees back to "Living in Oz's" "I Can't Stop Hurting You" and licks on the first single "Itsalwaysomething" will have fans and skeptics alike hitting replay on the CD player, thanks to a simple melody line, catchy chorus and rocking guitar. The Japanese release of "Karma" offers a bonus acoustic version of "Jessie's Girl," unavailable on the U.S. release. Call me stuck in the '80s, but I'm seeking it out. Seems like good karma. ***1/2

-- Lori Sears

Bill Lloyd

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (Koch 8035)

It doesn't take long to figure out where power-popper Bill Lloyd stands: the shoulders of the Beatles, the Byrds and Big Star carry him pretty much everywhere he wants to go. What makes "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" more than just pretty chimes and harmonies, though, is that many of the songs are actually clever insights into fandom itself: "Cool and Gone" is a bittersweet ode to teen-age band-worship. "Dr. Roberts Second Opinion" finds the most famous pharmacist of the '60s holding no regrets. The title track points out that even the giants themselves were standing on shoulders. Add in shiny jewels like the Marshall Crenshaw collaboration "Holding Back the Waterfall" and the country-rock "So You Won't Have To," and the result turns out to have legs of its own. ***1/2

-- Greg Schneider

DJ Rap

Learning Curve (Higher Ground/Columbia 69553)

Generally, when people say that a techno act has a strong sense of song structure, what they mean is that the music offers a recognizable melody and something resembling a verse and chorus. But DJ Rap really does write songs, with words and everything, and that's what makes "Learning Curve" seem such a breakthrough for the genre. Unlike the cheery dance pop we get from Britney Spears and the like, DJ Rap doesn't pound us over the head with her melodies or use the rhythm simply for propulsion. Instead, she uses traditional song components to hold the more abstract elements together, making it easy for the album to move from the airy funk of "Bad Girl" (sung by Rap herself) to the coloristic trance of "Stories from Around the World." ***

-- J.D. Considine

Various artists

BET: Best of Planet Groove Fully Loaded Records (7243)

This "Best of Planet Groove" album is a compilation of some of the tunes from the nightly BET video program, and it only serves to reinforce how sad a state R&B; music has fallen into. There's nothing new on this dreary 15-number collection, as all the songs are previously released, and precious little, save for Erykah Badu's sassy "Tyrone" and Janet Jackson's precocious "I Get Lonely," is imaginative. There's sincerity in Boyz II Men's "A Song for Mama," and on Xscape's "The Arms of the One Who Loves You," but the rest of the album wallows in mediocrity, hollow vocals and monotonous instrumentation. When does the next starship leave this planet, anyway? **

--Milton Kent

World music

Celtic Artists from Green Linnet Records

Joyful Noise (Green Linnet GLCD 108)

Buy this multi-artist, two-disc anthology if you seek the source of Celtic strains seeping into mass culture. It mixes the absolutely traditional with the slightly hybrid, the vocal with the instrumental, the male with the female, the Scots with the Irish. Authenticity rules. No Irish Rovers. No New Age moaning. No Mick Jagger with the Chieftains. Instruments are mainly acoustic: fiddles, guitars, pipes, whistles. Even derivative tracks, such as Gile Mear's "Relativity," with its electronic "horn" parts, maintain the essence. Production is crystalline. If you liked the "Titanic" soundtrack and want to wade in deeper, this is a good place. ***

-- Jay Hancock

Pub Date: 06/03/99

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