Morrissey

Although the likes of Pearl Jam and Soul Asylum threaten to run off with his crown, Morrissey is still alternative rock's king of pain. Now on his seventh solo studio album, the former Smiths front man's reign seems endangered: He's beginning to sound a lot like his competition. Unlike his last album, 1994's Vauxhall and I, which incorporated wry rockers, gorgeous dirges and cool rockabilly romps into his usual downbeat mix, Southpaw Grammar is a loud, one-riff affair. Morrissey offers a collection of fulltilt head-bangers that are all revved up but go nowhere. (They'll probably pump up the mosh pit at his live shows, but so what?) He does successfully adorn the awkwardly titled "The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils" with lovely orchestral flourishes and some creepy prose ("There's too many people/ Plannin' your downfall/ When your spirit's on trial/ These nights can be frightening"), but elsewhere he seems to be warbling the same miserable tune over and over. (Reprise)

Emilio

This 32-year-old Texan already has seven Latin albums behind him and 13 Tejano Music Awards lining his mantel. From the sound of this release—his country debut—he would better make some more room on the shelf. Emilio seems perfectly at home his first time out in the land of 1,000 hats. The opener, "Even If I Tried," saunters out of the gate like a champion show horse, laden with steel guitar, fiddle, honky-tonk piano and Emilio's husky, slightly raspy voice, which rides the tune with assurance. The singer can rock with the best of 'em, as he proves on such rowdy stampers as "Long As I Got You" and the title cut. Tender moments? There are a few of those too, including Van Morrison's love-laid-bare ballad "Have I Told You Lately" and the doo-wopish "There'll Be No More Crying" wherein our charismatic crooner displays a fine yearning yodel. And in a nod to his Tejano roots, two of the songs are repeated in Spanish. No doubt about it, Emilio's a winner in any language. (Capitol Nashville)

Jim Lauderdale

After Roseanne Cash, Jim Lauderdale is America's best ex-country singer. A critical favorite who still hasn't found the mass listener ship he deserves, Lauderdale made one of 1994's best country-rock albums, Pretty Close to the Truth. That's a hard act to follow, but Every Second Counts comes, well, pretty close. The difference, in the end, is a matter of heights—the former album contained two songs, "Why Do I Love You" and "Run Like You," that are as good as any pop tunes this decade. But if Every Second Counts lacks its predecessor's exhilarating peaks, it is still tough, intelligent roots-rock, a uniformly excellent high-wire act. Lauderdale continues, moreover, to add to his already large musical vocabulary. "Charmed" has an old-timey, Tin Pan Alley jauntiness; "Echo" is Latin-tinged; and "Bluebell," with its rusty-sounding, vibrato-drenched electric guitar, is gutbucket, down-home blues. As always, Lauderdale sings as if his life depends on it. Few singer-songwriters have Lauderdale's talent, curiosity and spine. He remains one of pop's best-kept secrets. (Atlantic)

Soul II Soul

Talk about a revolution. When "Keep on Movin' " and "Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)," Soul II Soul's 1989 breakthrough hits, first filled the airwaves with their lush, string-soaked arrangements, syncopated African polyrhythm and creamy vocals, they sounded like a brilliant musical coup. But despite the enduring appeal of those two tunes, six years and countless imitators later, they sound a little quaint.

Soul II Soul doesn't seem to have noticed, though: Their latest album is business as usual. Though they dip into some horn-tooting jazz waters ("How Long"), flirt with Middle Eastern psychedelia ("Love Enuff") and try out a slight country-western twang ("Zion"), Jazzie B and his cast of rotating voices (which includes Caron Wheeler, singer of the two aforementioned hits) barely budge from the old formula.

But familiarity aside, the soothing, sensual dance tempos on Believe make the album a sweet sojourn in soul's comfort zone. Now, if only Jazzie B would drop the smiley-face philosophizing. Fortune-cookie wisdom like "Everybody listen/ Make a change/ Negative attitudes/ Rearrange" is hollow hack therapy at its worst. (Virgin)

Dionne Warwick

Long before she became the reigning diva of TV's campy Psychic Friends Network, Dionne Warwick was best known for possessing one of the more distinct voices in pop music. She brought fame to composers Burt Bacharach and Hal David in the early 1960s with her silky-smooth vocal presentations of their tunes, including "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "Walk On By." From the Vaults, however, goes beyond those instantly recognizable classics and brings us obscure, lustrous pearls from Warwick's albums that were released between 1963 and 1966. Songs like "The Last One to Be Loved" and "In Between the Heartaches" embody the perfect pairing of singer and material. After listening to this collection, you won't need a psychic to see that these impassioned performances will long outlast Warwick's uninspired recordings of recent years.(Ichiban/Soul Classics)

>Prince Be/Reasons

REALITY BITES

"Reality used to be a friend of mine," sang Prince Be/Reasons on P.M. Dawn's hit 1991 album Of the Heart, Of the Soul and Of the Cross: The Utopian Experience. These days, he seems to still be estranged from his old pal: His band's new release, Jesus Wept, features songs such as "The 9:45 Wake-up Dream" and "My Own Personal Gravity." But the artist formerly known as Prince Be insists that, in his own way, he's searching for the meaning of life. The problem, he says, is that "the answers come in the form of more questions."

You seem to have some concerns about reality.

I run away from it. I'm into escapism. I look at life differently than most people—more spiritually—and do my own thing. For example, one day I was feeling materialistic, and I didn't like it, so I left the door to my car open in the parking lot of a radio station where I was doing an interview. I told the listeners, 'My Pathfinder's outside, so whoever wants it could take it.' Miraculously, no one stole it.

In May, when I turned 25, I decided that I wouldn't talk for three weeks. No notes, nothing. I needed to look inside myself. Being silent gave me a chance to see whatever I am. When you're not communicating with anyone else, not even your wife, you're going to know yourself a lot better. I had to know who I was, and talking to anyone else during that time would have distracted me.

What did you learn?

One thing I learned is how many people want to talk to you while you're being quiet.

  • Contributors:
  • Jeremy Helligar,
  • Randy Vest,
  • Tony Scherman,
  • Peter Castro.