M People

Frankie Knuckles

Club music has always been ruled by swinging singles—that's why full-length dance albums are rarely worth the cash. But now '90s dance-music icons M People and Frankie Knuckles are changing all that, serving up discs that offer more than a few 5-minute thrills.

Rather than getting by on groove alone, Bizarre Fruit (Epic), from England's M People, stuffs in all the best elements of timeless R&B: soaring melodies, gospel backdrops, joy in repetition and big, distinctive vocals. Whether you wince at the feel-good mantra of "Search for the Hero" or remain immune to the classic good hooks of "Open Your Heart," front woman Heather Small's booming alto is hard to shake and, like her pineapple-shaped coif, impossible to ignore.

Ditto Adeva, the featured vocalist on Welcome to the Real World (Virgin), the second album by popular New York City club DJ and producer Frankie Knuckles. Although Adeva's brassy growl seems somewhat manufactured compared with Small's finesse, she shines on ballads, usually tough turf for beat-obsessed disco divas. And Knuckles's soundscapes maximize the euphoric drama of house music and its anticipatory rush. "Love Can Change It" and the title tune, especially, keep building, suggesting the best is always yet to come.

Various Artists

It's clear why this soundtrack for the film Friday, an urban comedy starring hip-hop superstar Ice Cube (who co-wrote and coproduced the film and produced the album), recently nabbed the No. 1 and 2 spots on Billboard's R&B and pop charts respectively.

Two-thirds of the record features some of hip hop's best-known rappers performing impressive new material, like Dr. Dre's infectious "Keep Their Heads Ringin' " and Scarface's nasty but well-crafted "Friday Night." The middle third of the album shrewdly contains four R&B pearls: "Tryin' to See Another Day," a soulful ditty by the Isley Brothers; "You Got Me Wide Open," a sensual ballad by Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell; "Mary Jane," the funkiest ode to marijuana ever recorded, by Rick James; and "I Wanna Get next to You," a touching love song, worthy of the early Temptations, by Rose Royce.

Unfortunately, not all of Friday is as flawless as that wonderful R&B interlude. Some of the rap cuts, such as Funkdoobiest's "Superhoes" and Cypress Hill's "Roll It Up, Light It Up, Smoke It Up," are expendable, as is a senseless techno cover of the Motown classic "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," by Roger.

Still, at its best, the album is an arresting amalgam of disparate genres. As it filters out of boom boxes this summer, it might even inspire some listeners to declare, "TGIFriday." (Priority)

Blessid Union of Souls

Music fans probably can be divided into two camps: those who swoon over sentimental acts, such as Michael Bolton, Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey, and those who can't stomach them. Blessid Union of Souls, a Cincinnati-based quartet who sing about peace, love and understanding, are the newest faces on pop's schmaltzy totem pole.

There's little doubt about the group's singing talent, but while their harmonies are tight, they are also lifeless. Indeed, despite the band's name, Home is essentially bereft of soul. Yes, the message of the hit single "I Believe" (about the perils of racism) is important. But lead singer Eliot Sloan's vocal style, dripping with breathy angst and earnestness, is more annoying than distinctive—he often sounds like Michael Jackson singing a bad ballad. And the bouncy, acoustic feel of the melodies gets gobbled up by overproduced string arrangements.

In true, easy-listening fashion, the album also contains its share of emetic lyrics: "As I look into your eyes/Feelings are much too strong for us not to try/And if by chance we lose this fight/Darling we still have tonight." In other words, Blessid Union of Souls, already the darlings of VH-1, have a great commercial future ahead of them. (EMI)

The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos

The Benedictine monks at the remote Spanish monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos watched last year's Gregorian-chant craze with mixed emotions. Nice to have an audience of 6 million record buyers and to be so hot that the "Benzedrine Monks of Santo Domonica" release a chant parody. Not so pleasant to watch while the record company that owns the rights to the medieval chants revived by your monastery markets them to New Agers, who snap up the album as a mood-music compromise between grunting whales and the John Tesh oeuvre.

Now the monks are back, with a different record company and a better album. Like last year's Chant, this record draws on decades-old tapes made at the Spanish abbey, but the sound is better—less tape hiss, improved acoustics—and the packaging not so...secular.

From the cover artwork (a delicate Fra Angelico angel instead of cloud-hopping monks) to the scholarly—albeit badly translated—liner notes on the Catholic mass (five versions are performed here), this album is meant to restore Gregorian chant to its proper context. The monks' voices, gently colored by an organ accompaniment, admirably reflect the music's calm, ethereal beauty.

Crystal caressers can certainly still get their bliss tickets punched by The Soul of Chant, but now listeners interested in the historical and religious meaning of plainsong, initially collected and organized in the 6th century at the instruction of Pope Saint Gregory I, have been invited to join the Silos monks' chorus of fans. (Milan/JADE)

>P. Laurentino Saenz de Buruaga

A ROOF OVER THEIR HEADS

It's tempting to think of the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos in Spain as pop-star ascetics in rhinestone-studded habits, but the multi-platinum success of their Chant album did not shatter the monastery's peace—or its coffers. Though details of their financial arrangement with EMI are in dispute, choirmaster P. Laurentino Saenz de Buruaga, 70, says the monks were never in danger of breaking their vow of poverty.

How does the abbey support itself?

Most important is the intellectual work: publishing scholarly books and articles on art, music, archeology, literature. We also have lots of hives, producing masses of honey. And we make jewelry reproductions of our collection of medieval gold and silver.

Are you angry at not sharing more in Chant's success?

No, it doesn't upset us. This is the kind of time we are living in, when powerful companies step on the weaker to squeeze them and obtain money without any kind of consideration. But we know that this not only happens in the world of music but in every field of human activity.

What will you do with the royalties on the new album?

If it's a small amount, it will just be spent on the upkeep of Silos—a huge building that has thousands of square meters of tiles and roof. Reroofing in the traditional way is very expensive. If it is a large amount, we will also help nuns in the area who live in 13th-and 14th-century buildings that are falling down from lack of repairs.

  • Contributors:
  • Jeremy Helligar,
  • Peter Castro,
  • Mark Lasswell.