The Four Tops

Taking a cue from the Spinners in some powerful new arrangements that do not compromise the Tops' patented punch, the group has produced its best album since the old Motown days. With lead singer Levi Stubbs' voice in scorching good form, the Tops use the best of young Detroit musicians (Ronnie McNeir, Carolyn Franklin, Lorenzo Brown), plus the nonpareil keyboard work of the venerable Earl Van Dyke. Best cut: Runnin' from Your Love, the B side of their single.

Steely Dan

Steely Dan is forever evolving—changing personnel, musical conceptions and recording techniques. It seems that Walter Becker and Donald Fagan have abandoned their Beat Generation influences to pursue a slicker type of light jazz. All rough edges are rounded, and with the aid of such notables as Tom Scott and Wayne Shorter, the songs float right by. Then what's missing? The keen wit and superior lyrics that helped make Steely Dan so different. Easy listening, but that's about it.

Robin Trower

Trower fans may do a double take but don't worry, this ex-Procol Harum rocker still lays down the chords hard and heavy. Although remaining true to his Hendrix-style guitar playing; Trower's compositions have definitely mellowed. The styles represented here are more in the funky R&B vein, as in Sweet Wine of Love and the Bobby "Blue" Bland classic Farther Up the Road. Trower never leaves his moody blue feelings behind, but there is also plenty of the more familiar, spacey material co-written with vocalist James Dewar.

Diana Ross

As if his handling of Martha Reeves' album a couple of years back wasn't bad enough, hotshot producer Richard Perry has taken on Diana Ross. While he resists double-tracking her voice as he does with Carly Simon, Perry somehow manages to make Diana's thin pipes sound precariously thinner. She mushes and gushes her way through an undistinguished array of songs, a few of which try but fail to keep the flavor of her last hit, Love Hangover. Her treatment of Stevie Wonder's Too Shy to Say is especially unfortunate. For inspiration, perhaps Diana should listen to her old Supremes albums.

Esther Phillips

"This should have gone to the real Queen of Soul, Esther Phillips," remarked Aretha Franklin several years back when she won her umpteenth Grammy. Discovered by Johnny Otis when she was 13 (and billed as Little Esther), Phillips has never reached Aretha's mass market, or even her heroine Dinah Washington's, for that matter. One reason was Esther's long fight with drug addiction which she has now won. This album should go a long way toward correcting past injustices, although, regrettably, Mercury apparently won't release a single. Any cut from this album would do—but especially her exquisite rendition of Washington's Somewhere Along the Line.

The Rolling Stones

This is the first live Stones release since their memorable Ya-Ya's album seven years ago, and superb production ensures that the manic excitement of their stage music comes across. Sides 1,2 and 4 were taped last year during a brief European tour. Side 3, with blues oldies like Little Red Rooster and Mannish Boy, was recorded in the rare intimacy of a 300-seat Toronto nightclub last March, The three large-hall sides will neither surprise nor disappoint Stones freaks. The Toronto segment, however, will thrill even skeptics. Keith Richard, nicely complemented throughout by Ronnie Wood, shows he can still rip out blistering chords on classics like Honky Tonk Women and Sympathy for the Devil and get funky on sinewy blues numbers like You Gotta Move. The Stones may represent the Old Guard, but they still play rock at its effortless, riveting best.

Graham Parker and the Rumour

Parker used to pump gas in England until he turned to a high-octane career in rock. From the Bruce Springsteen-Pete Seeger school, Parker is best when channeling his considerable energies into tunes like the blistering Clear Head. Thankfully, Parker generally sticks to what he knows in Stick to Me.