The Beach Boys

Brian Wilson, once the voice of pleasure-surfeited California, unwittingly raises an issue: What does it mean when our most beloved American bandsmen, all weathered by various mid-life crises, are still scoring with angels and "honk-honk-honkin' down the highway"? If the lyrics bother you, there are still those stately Beach Boy harmonies and tricky arrangements. And, if nothing else, Love You is Brian's song (he was composer, producer and lead singer), proof of his productive reentry into the real world.

The Isley Brothers

No surprises. The Isleys have found their formula—an incessant "wah-wah-whomp" background on every cut—and stick with it. Devotees will go for their wallets.

Gladys Knight and the Pips

They are, they are. Working like a well-oiled harmony machine, Gladys and her group have turned out another exceptional album, thanks in part to the production and writing skills of Van ("The Hustle") McCoy. Listen especially for the driving and danceable Love Is Always on Your Mind.

After slide guitar genius Duane Allman's death in 1971, it was Betts's ax and voice that defined Allman Brothers classics like Blue Sky and Ramblin' Man. In this solo effort, Betts's guitar squawks and screeches as tastily as ever, though he's given to overdoing favorite licks, and his voice is as alluring and Southern as Spanish moss. Betts's band isn't the only ABB descendant around, of course, but his potent rhythm and vocal backing carry this LP above Sea Level.

Marlena Shaw

A gifted lady who had the aplomb and talent to sing with the Basie band, Shaw gives Go Away Little Boy, among other tunes, some intriguing new turns. Comparisons to Nancy Wilson are inevitable, but Shaw can stand on her own.

Return to Forever

Half of keyboardist Chick Corea's explosive jazzrock combo (guitar and drum) has left, leaving only the fleet-fingered leader and bass dazzler Stanley Clarke. They've been joined by five horn players, a drummer and a woman keyboardist, who shares somber vocals with Clarke. Despite some highs, the results seem largely aimless. Corea-Clarke freaks will probably return to earlier works.

Bill Cosby

Cosby's in his element when rhapsodizing about his childhood in Philly and dropping acute observations on mothers and fathers. Side B, however, would have been better off with some of his pudding commercials.