Lou Reed

What a morose title Lou Reed has bestowed upon his 18th solo studio album! And a potentially portentous one too: When the craggy rock-and-roll legend deliberately camps it up on the chorus of the punch-drunk opening song, declaring, "You scream/I steam/We all want Egg Cream," it appears as if twilight has overtaken his creative powers. Fortunately, Reed soon gets back on track. He adds subtle hip-hop shadings to his stream-of-consciousness talk on the shuffling, sexy romp "NYC Man" and gets soulful over the bawling guitars of "Riptide." At its strum-along best ("Hang On to Your Emotions," "The Proposition"), Twilight Reeling contains some of Reed's sturdiest and most accessible work since 1972's Transformer, which featured his classic "Walk on the Wild Side." But when he gets overtly political on the anti-Republican "Sex with Your Parents ([expletive deleted]) Part II," he squanders his gift of insight; the song comes off like a catty, incoherent, adolescent tirade. Sure, personal attack has replaced debate and discourse on and off the campaign trail, but mocking a "Rush Rambo" and "Robert" Dole by claiming they have "been to bed with their parents" is probably taking it all too far. (Warner Bros.)

The Pointer Sisters

They may have rocked dance halls once with hits like "Jump (For My Love)," "I'm So Excited" and "Slow Hand," but these days the Pointer Sisters—Anita, 47, June, 42, and Ruth, 40—are rocking theaters across the country in a rousing revival of the 1978 Tony-winning Broadway musical Ain't Misbehavin'.

After a surprisingly stilted delivery of the Fats Waller title song, the CD starts to swing with jive classics like "Lookin' Good but Feelin' Bad," and the sisters have a grand time with a medley that includes "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter." Yet the high point comes not from a Pointer, but courtesy of costar Michael-Leon Wooley, who delivers a funky and sly version of the comedy song "Your Feet's Too Big." On "Honeysuckle Rose," Wooley's warm, flirtatious style brings out the best in Anita's strong and sassy voice. The sister most at home wailing Waller, she heats up the torchy "Mean to Me," and with a lilting, fervent delivery of "I've Got a Feeling I'm Falling," she all but sends you reeling. (RCA Victor)

Various Artists

Long a major presence in country music, Mercury Records has turned out some pretty terrific discs—especially during the 1960s—most of which are probably unknown to the genre's new glut of '90s fans.

This three-CD boxed set is a reminder of the company's rich musical past and also, unfortunately, of its often soulless present. Only a compilation spanning 50 years could open with the spare, playful sounds of Sheriff Tom Owen and His Cowboys doing "A New Ten Gallon Hat" (the label's first country session in 1945) and close with a song like last year's slick, overproduced "Any Man of Mine" by Shania Twain. The rewards in between are many, including Leroy Van Dyke's rousing twanger "Walk On By" (1961), Roy Drusky and Priscilla Mitchell's duet "Yes, Mr. Peters" (1965)—a cheatin' song that's begging to be revived—and a 16-year-old Dolly Parton trilling "The Love You Gave," a pop tune that could have come straight from the Brill Building.

But beware of Billy Ray Cyrus's clay-footed "Achy Breaky Heart," which lurks amidst the many treasures found here. (Mercury)"

Pulp

This hot British sextet has a knack for spinning sharp tales about sophisticated sybarites. "I want to sleep with common people," a pampered princess announces in one song. On another cut a lothario makes a promise to the object of his affections: "I'll be around when he's not in town/ I'll show you how you do it in Rome." Pulp's most infectious efforts seem to gallop headlong from the speakers, barely able to contain their urgency. With his breathless vocal delivery and dandy disposition, foppish frontman Jarvis Cocker nearly makes his most obvious influence, David Bowie in his renowned mod '60s mode, seem like a paragon of middle-class normalcy. All of this would be dismissable as some arch affectation if Cocker and company didn't possess the charm and the musical chops to make their vision of high-society-gone-awry so captivating.(Island)

>Cassandra Wilson

THE TEACHER AND THE TINKERER

Vocalist Cassandra Wilson has long been adored by jazz afficionados for her sinuous voice and brainy sensuality. Mainstream listeners discovered her in 1993, when Blue Light 'til Dawn, her addictive brew of blues, folk and Joni Mitchell-esque pop became one of the year's surprise hits. Now the 40-year-old Wilson has released New Moon Daughter (Blue Note Records) and will start a U.S. tour in April—something she loves but also dreads, since it usually means leaving her 6-year-old son Jeris with her mother. "We have lots of conversations about it," says Wilson, who is divorced. "It's tough for both of us."

How did your parents influence you?

My mom, an elementary school teacher for 40 years, is the most driven woman I know. She's completely dedicated to her three children, obsessed with her work. I have all her ambition and most of her energy. My father affected me too. Aside from being a musician—he played bass and guitar—he was an inventor. He came up with all kinds of extraordinary schemes and designs. So the side of me that's a tinkerer, a dreamer, comes from him.

As a Southerner from Jackson, Miss., do you ever feel lost in New York City?

I've gotten used to New. Yorkers. What I mean is, I've gotten accustomed to their dispensing with courtesies and formalities. After years of being here, my manners have been blunted. In fact whenever I go home, my mother says my social graces have flat-out disappeared. And though she revels in my success, it takes a lot to impress her, as with most Southerners. We always joke that Michael Jackson could walk down the street and people wouldn't be impressed; they'd stop and ask him a few questions, like, "What was wrong with your face that you felt compelled to change it?" Down there, you're just home folk. People say, "I've known you since you were this big, so don't go putting on airs!" I love that.

  • Contributors:
  • Jeremy Helligar,
  • Marjorie Rosen,
  • Randy Vest,
  • Tony Scherman.