Lisa Stansfield

God bless the '70s. True, the clothes were ridiculous, but the disco wasn't so bad. At least, Stansfield's way of recycling disco and '70s R&B upgrades your opinion of disco and makes it fit snugly into the '90s.

Real Love is the second album for the British-born singer whose 1989 debut produced the Top 10 single "All Around the World" and established her as a dance diva. The new disc doesn't show much progression, but that's not necessarily bad.

Her music, cowritten with band mates Ian Devaney and Andy Morris, is steeped in '70s soul. This kind of pulsating stuff kept platform shoes shuffling and polyester shirts rustling from Watergate through Three Mile Island.

Real Love generates its seductive grooves from a laid-back rhythm section, some slippery horns and Stansfield's slinky, sophisticated vocals. She neither squeaks like Madonna nor belts like Whitney Houston. It's nothing new, but music this comfortable never goes out of style. Unlike the leisure suit. (Arista)

James Taylor

Taylor has long been a troubadour of lost times, lost loves and the lure of the open road. On his 13th album, his signature assets are all present: the twangy, reedy voice; the rock, folk and gospel-infused melodies; and the lyrics—now wry, now yearning, now self-referential. In New Moon Shine, in fact, he expands his vision with a song about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., another about a Vietnam vet and one that tidily sums up the '80s under Reagan: "Take all the money that we need for school/ And to keep the street people in out of the cold/ Spend it on a weapon you can never use/ Make the world an offer that they can't refuse."

Fortunately Taylor does not forsake his usual themes. Consider "Like Everyone She Knows," a wistful chronicle of a woman's thus-far futile search for love, and "Copperline," a piercingly lovely and lyrically adroit paean to Taylor's North Carolina boyhood. Taylor is no less careful and thoughtful with others' words and music than he is with his own. Sam Cooke's "Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha" unfolds with an incalculable sweetness. (Columbia)


Are we in for another formulaic, hit-laden release from this British supertrio, back in action after five quiescent years? Hardly.

The length of the songs alone sets this record apart. Only one of the 12 tracks clocks in at under four minutes. Three exceed seven minutes. That means a return to the more experimental work that disappeared after 1981's Abacab. Either that or the boys are desperately trying to kill time with pointless noodling. Seeing as how they're, ahem, pop craftsmen of rare distinction, let's give them the benefit of the doubt.

There are just three melodically fetching, radio-ready tracks: the ballads "Never a Time" and "Since I Lost You," and "I Can't Dance," a simple slammer with an arrangement that shows off the group's remarkable facility for aural atmospherics. "Hold on My Heart" has a pretty chorus, but it takes its own sweet time getting there.

Even on the lesser songs, these guys do many things well, for instance the chiming Byrdsian guitar on "Tell Me Why" or the roundelay harmonies on "Living Forever." But too often they're just exterior-decorating their own unprepossessing compositions. Okay, so they can't dance. But have they forgotten how to write? (Atlantic)

The Chieftains

If you're a fine but low-profile Irish folk group like the Chieftains, what would be on your Christmas wish list? Probably to get high-profile talents like Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithfull, Jackson Browne, Rickie Lee Jones and others to join you for a collection of seasonal music. Not that the Chieftains, with their lilting fiddles, flutes, Uilleann pipes and harp, need aid. But even Santa has helpers.

Two of the prettiest vocals here are by Nanci Griffith on "The Wexford Carol" and Jackson Browne on his "The Rebel Jesus." The record also contains some international flavor. Kate and Anna McGarrigle bring their crystalline harmonies to "II Est Né/ ça Berger," a medley of French-Canadian carols.

The Chieftains also journey across the Channel, figuratively, for "A Breton Carol," a French-Celtic tune sung by Nolwen Monjarret.

It's a lovely collection, though perhaps not as shimmeringly sentimental as Americans are used to on Christmas. This dignified, haunting music happens to be somewhat sad. The Chieftains, a sextet that has been together 28 years, haven't compromised their style. They've just added some star power to help them deck the halls. (RCA Victor)

The Benny Green Trio

Pianist Green, 28, plays hard bop (bebop's tough, glinting successor), but he has a beautiful soft spot for melody. On Greens, his fourth album, Green and trio mates Christian McBride (bass) and Carl Allen (drums) set the mood with the pianist's droll, bluesy title cut, built around McBride's lean and lively lines. On standards like "Time After Time," Green swings vigorously without losing the tune's musical sense, whereas on the traditional "Battle Hymn of the Republic," he loses his way in florid, overemphatic gestures.

Green's high regard for melody helps him avoid some of the pitfalls of hard bopping—nothing here is done too long or too indulgently. As he writes in the liner notes, "We're looking to have fun, not solely for the approval of other musicians but as a way of expressing the joy of being alive."

This Berkeley, Calif., native may be still in thrall to his many influences—among them Bud Powell, Errol Garner and Horace Silver—but that hasn't kept him from trying out his own repertoire of voicings. Greens is both a tribute to these masters and a testament to Green's own inventiveness. (Blue Note)

  • Contributors:
  • Craig Tomashoff,
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • David Hiltbrand,
  • Lisa Shea.