Dave Stewart

Stewart's Gutter must be the hottest spot in musicland—it seems that the only buddy who didn't make it to his solo debut is Annie Lennox, Stewart's former Eurythmics partner. Mick Jagger and Deee-Lite's Lady Miss Kier croon in the background. Laurie Anderson lends her spooky vocal touch and electric violin to "Kinky Sweetheart," and Lou Reed adds a blustery, bluesy guitar epilogue to "You Talk a Lot."

Although Stewart and pals dig into Gutter's organic rock and roll as effortlessly as Eurythmics cranked out their cool electro-pop, Stewart has a tough time finding his own voice. Sounding positively Bowie-esque on the dirgelike "St. Valentine's Day," he makes like Major Tom crash-landing.

Still, thanks to Stewart's stellar guitar picking and crack songwriting—don't be surprised if you're humming along to these confections halfway through the first listen—he rules the Gutter. You might not even miss Annie. (East West)

Harry Nilsson

The late Harry Nilsson is generally remembered either as the partying friend of ex-Beatle John Lennon or the sad-eyed romantic who poured his heart into "Without You" (recently a hit for Mariah Carey). But as this new two-disc box set makes abundantly clear, he was a song craftsman whose versatile tenor could handle big-band crooning ("As Time Goes By"), irreverent clowning (the goofball hit "Coconut") or furious rocking (the savage "Jump into the Fire").

Personal Best covers the years 1967-77, following Nilsson's progress from journeyman songwriter to hit maker. Disc one features early gems like "One" (a hit for Three Dog Night), "Everybody's Talkin' " and the simple, catchy kid's tune "Me and My Arrow." Though disc two is less consistent, it includes gripping, bittersweet ballads like "Don't Forget Me" and "Salmon Falls." The upcoming Nilsson tribute album may inspire renewed interest in the artist, but this collection serves as a better memorial. It lets Nilsson's work speak for itself. (RCA)

John Lee Hooker

The growlin' grandpa of the blues is back, continuing the major-label career resurgence that began with The Healer in 1989, and once again he has brought a few famous friends along for the ride. At first, Carlos Santana's distinctive guitar sound threatens to steal the title track from the star—that is, until Hooker opens his mouth to sing. The album's crowning moment comes when the blues veteran is joined by acolyte Van Morrison for the medley "Serves Me Right to Suffer/Syndicator." The indulgent elder, Hooker stays in the background while the mercurial Irish genius slams his favorite target: record company back stabbers.

The album contains a healthy diet of delta blues with two great new songs, "Woman on My Mind" and "Annie Mae." On these tracks, Hooker is in fine form, with his stark guitar strumming bumping against a voice no one can beat for its world-weary authenticity. After chilling out with the master, you'll understand why Hooker—who turns 75 this year—continues to inspire new generations of "Boogie Chillen." (Pointblank/Virgin)

Heather Myles

Despite the good reviews she garnered for her 1992 debut album, Just Like Old Times (with its prominent Buck Owens-Bakersfield sound influences), the majority of the record-buying public has yet to discover Southern California singer-songwriter Heather Myles. They don't know what they're missing. On this new release she blends different musical styles, offering her full-throated vocals and honest, no-nonsense delivery on cuts like "It Ain't Over," a jangly, folk-tinged Mary Chapin Carpenter-esque tune, and "Indigo Moon" with its south-of-the border feel.

Myles, who wrote or cowrote eight of the songs here, shows her rural roots on a quietly effective cover of Marty Robbins's "Begging to You" (with Myles's vocal conjuring up visions of Patsy Cline) and "Gone Too Long," a travelin'-down-the-highway, guitar-driven rocker. The album's highlight is "Until I Couldn't Have You," a wistful tale of romantic remorse, one that her record label should quickly release as a single before Reba gets hold of it and makes it her own. (HighTone)

Simple Minds

Don't let the grandiose title fool you. This new release from the Scottish band—which has been hitless in the U.S. for nearly 10 years—is very bad news indeed. Once a five-member outfit, Simple Minds now consists just of singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill. Less isn't more here: the music on the nine tracks follows a simple-minded formula of fuzz-box guitar licks and yelping, pseudo-sincere vocals. The lyrics are bar-band bad—full of burning hearts, shining stars, broken chains and runaway trains. And to think this tepid effort took four years to produce. Suddenly the sentiment behind the band's first big single, "Don't You (Forget About Me)," sounds more like a plaintive plea than a confident declaration. (Virgin)

The Caulfields

This group's debut disc is an exceptionally smart collection of pop-rock gems with a sound that recalls the glory days of Elvis Costello & the Attractions. It pulls you in with memorable melodies toughed up with blasts of rock-guitar crunch, but what makes Whirligig more than just fun is its witty wordplay. Two of the best are "Alex Again," the tale of a young femme fatale whose father died of "a stroke or had his ego stroked to death," and "Devil's Diary," the testimonial of a messianic young rocker who is "stage-diving off the Church of the Holier-Than-Thou." The Caulfields' songs have a depth and humor that, when combined with their knack for pop hooks, makes them a band to remember. (A&M)

>Dave Stewart

GUTTER SNIPING

AT 42, DAVE STEWART IS A '90S RENAISSANCE man: He has just released his first solo album and is busy scoring an upcoming film for director Ted Demme (Jonathan's nephew), writing songs with Paul McCartney, preparing to launch a new art magazine (MAFIA: Music Art Fashion Interactive Alliance) and looking forward to his first photo exhibition in London this spring.

So why would he call his new album Greetings from the Gutter? "It's greetings from the emotional gutter," says the former Eurythmic. "I had never done my own album because of insecurity and self-doubt. I was always hiding myself behind other people. And then I spent six weeks in a psychiatric hospital about a year and a half ago as part of a quest to look inside myself. You realize that to move forward you have to confront the darkest side of yourself."

Moving forward has never been easy for Stewart—he even founded Eurythmics with former girlfriend Annie Lennox a week after they broke off their romantic relationship. "Imagine being with an ex-love, breaking up and then releasing something that's No. 1 in America," says Stewart, who married musician Siobhan Fahey, formerly of Bananarama and now in Shakespeare's Sister, in 1987 and currently lives in London with their two sons, Sam, 7, and Django, 4. By the time Stewart and Lennox split professionally in 1989, Stewart says he was exhausted. The two have since had little contact. "You're tied together, and it comes to a point where you just need space. Still, I think she's a great songwriter. That's why we spent so long together. I respected what she did, and she respected me."

  • Contributors:
  • Jeremy Helligar,
  • Geoffrey Welchman,
  • David Ellis,
  • Randy Vest,
  • Craig Tomashoff.