Neal McCoy

Neal McCoy had a hit third album last year that spawned two No. 1 country singles ("No Doubt About It" and "Wink"), and his success should continue with his highly listenable and satisfying follow-up. The dance-floor-friendly title song is delivered with self-assured ease by this native Texan, and though McCoy has claimed in interviews that he's not a good singer or musician, you won't think so when listening to the tunes rendered here. He and producer Barry Beckett struck a winning formula last time out, and that successful combination is once again right on the mark. McCoy seems most at home on the rowdy rockers (the infectious "Twang" and "Y-O-U") but is also comfortable on the midtempo "Spending Every Minute in Love," with its loping rhythm and sexy lyrics ("I love to hear you tell me/ What you dream.../ Wearin' nothin' but my T-shirt/ And a sleepy smile").

The album starts losing steam near the end—"Plain Jane" and "You're Backin' Up" are uninspired fillers—but McCoy manages a strong finish with the melancholy ballad "If I Was a Drinkin' Man" ("I'd get myself a bottle/ And you'd be history"). After hearing a tune like this, you'll be drying your eyes with one hand and starting the album anew with the other. (Atlantic)

Jacky Terrasson

Christian McBride

Pianist Jacky Terrasson and bassist Christian McBride are standouts among the latest crop of jazz young bloods. Having tested their talents as sidemen with some demanding jazz veterans, both Terrasson and McBride launch their careers as bandleaders with sessions worth savoring.

Terrasson, 29, the 1993 winner of the prestigious Thelonious Monk Competition, did long apprenticeships with drummer Art Taylor and singer Betty Carter before breaking out on his own. On Jacky Terrasson (Blue Note), he takes a contemplative approach to "My Funny Valentine," "I Love Paris" and other jazz standards, shrouding the familiar melodies with veiled harmonies and implied rhythms. Terrasson is a brooding modernist with a classicist's touch.

By contrast, McBride is a merry young man with a very old soul. At 22, he has already made more than 70 recordings as a sideman and earned the admiration of master bassists Milt Hinton, 84, and Ray Brown, 68, who make a cameo appearance on Gettin' to It (Verve). McBride proves he can move with the groove on the title track, an acoustic tribute to his idol, James Brown. But the dark, round tone and rhythmic resilience he displays on a solo rendition of the jazz standard "Night Train" reveals he is possessed of a musical wisdom well beyond his years.

With emerging talents like Terrasson and McBride, both the past and future of jazz appear to be in good hands.

Henry Threadgill

Henry Threadgill's music has always been an anomaly, but over the years, the eclectic composer-saxophonist has produced some beautiful and wildly original music. This is true once again with Carry the Day, Threadgill's first release on a major label.

With his group Very Very Circus Plus—which includes two tubas, two guitars, two percussionists, two vocalists, an accordion, a violin, drums, a French horn and a pipa (a dreamy Chinese string instrument)—the crafty Threadgill picks up where he left off with his last two works, the piquant, listener-friendly Song out of My Trees and Too Much Sugar for a Dime. His amalgam of jazz, classical and world music could reek of pretension, but Threadgill has a sense of humor that always comes through in his compositions—the title track, an ebullient Latin number, with a repeated Spanish lyric, is a perfect example. His distant, plaintive alto saxophone on "Between Orchids, Lillies, Blind Eyes, and Cricket" is one of the highlights, and the slow, penetrating accordion, accompanied with the pipa, has never sounded better than on the haunting "Hyla Crucifer...Silence Of." The many cryptic lyrics, such as "Send all the mirrors to the zoo," seem somewhat unnecessary, and Threadgill does have a dissonant moment or two. Nonetheless, this is an impressive album by an innovative, important musician who takes chances but never loses his integrity—or his wit. (Columbia)

Julie Andrews

If Andrews became a star via Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady and Camelot, she became an even bigger one by way of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. She discharges the latter debt with a voice almost as pure as when it first echoed through the Alps some 30 years ago and with a crystalline diction that would do Professor Higgins proud.

That said, let's get what bad news there is out of the way quickly. The orchestrations are sometimes too lush and gooey, and Andrews occasionally pushes too hard. In an otherwise fine medley embracing such shows as Oklahoma! and South Pacific, she turns "This Nearly Was Mine" from a song of thwarted love into a hymn to self-indulgence and ear-piercing excess.

The good news: Andrews sings only two songs from the overexposed The Sound of Music. There is, instead, a fetching "Bewitched" and "Nobody Told Me," a lovely, little-known ballad from No Strings, Rodgers' only solo Broadway endeavor.

Andrews was due to open on the Great White Way this spring in the musical version of Victor/Victoria, but due to financial problems with the show's backers, that was recently postponed until fall. In the meantime, fortunately, there is Julie Andrews—Broadway: The Music of Richard Rodgers. (Philips)

Alison Krauss

Who's the best female vocalist in Nashville? Granted, that's a ridiculous question, but qualify it with "under 30," and you're talking about Alison Krauss. Though the 23-year-old singer-fiddler insists she's a traditionalist, she and Union Station, her band of hotshot pickers, are ushering bluegrass into the '90s. This "retrospective-plus" (it's got three newly recorded songs) is a perfect place to make Krauss's acquaintance (though her best-known—and perhaps best—song, "I've Got That Old Feeling," is unaccountably missing). The new cuts show where Krauss is headed: abandoning the usual bluegrass policy of repolishing old chestnuts, she is applying the genre's homespun style to an increasingly wide range of material. How many bluegrassers have the nerve, or imagination, to tackle a Bad Company song ("Oh, Atlanta") or a hunk of Top 40 schlock (the Foundations' "Baby, Now That I've Found You," which she makes fresh and haunting)? Krauss is one of country music's best assets. (Rounder)

Los Lobos with Lalo Guerrero

This band from East L.A. keeps stepping off the pop treadmill to dabble in soundtracks, collections of traditional Mexican music and now this album for children. All these experiments have been performed with the band's usual heady elegance and muted romanticism.

The album gets off to a rousing start with an impertinent, andante arrangement of Los Lobos's biggest hit, their 1987 version of "La Bamba." That is followed by an infectious reworking of Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs' greasy pop nugget "Wooly Bully" and a swinging at-the-hop cover of the Hollywood Flames' "Buzz, Buzz, Buzz."

In narrative snippets between songs, Lalo Guerrero, a venerable figure in the Latino music community, weaves a fanciful tale of loading his entire family into "a Chicano blimp" and flying down to Mexico to celebrate his 80th birthday in his native land. As the narrative drifts farther south, so does the music, from Tex-Mex to corridos, rancheras and bandas. At the same time, the lyrics turn bilingual, and Papa Lalo assumes more of the singing duties.

The songs are delicious on both sides of the border. If they had had kids' music like this when we were growing up, we'd all be richer adults. (Music for Little People)

  • Contributors:
  • Randy Vest,
  • David Grogan,
  • Michael J. Agovino,
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • Tony Scherman,
  • David Hiltbrand.