Fishbone

Starting with their first EP in 1985, this L.A. septet began carving out a niche as a ska-slam band, a strange but hearty hybrid of punk meets Rasta.

While the band has expanded its stylistic arsenal, its previous work has often been frantic and flyaway, more attitude than substance. This album, though it still skips along on the wild side, is the group's most impressive.

The mood bounces from reggae fun-house in "Pray to the Junkiemaker" to the rocking "Fight the Youth" to "Pressure," which sounds like a show tune played by crazed circus clowns.

Fishbone's core, singer Angelo Moore, guitarist Kendall Jones and drummer Phillip "Fish" Fisher, are in rare form, flaunting their eclectic repertoire of metal, funk, rock, pogo-pop and work chants. Listening to them is like watching a multicolored variety pack of Play-Doh go through a meat grinder. (Columbia)

Kelly Willis

Despite her Crystal Gayle vocal throb and Patsy Cline sense of drama, most of Willis's songs would be as much at home in Los Angeles as they would in Austin or Nashville.

Wherever. This second album is a rough-rocking, blues-oozing, romance-defying, blurb-inspiring production if ever there was one.

At 22, Willis brims with energy yet is cynical enough to deal slyly with Joe Ely's tribute to realism, "Settle for Love": "You want drama/ I'll give you drama." She transposes Australian rocker Paul Kelly's "Hidden Things" into something a Virginia gal can handle in madhouse mode too.

Tony Brown produced this album, as he did Willis's debut. It has an admirable precision, and the guitars of Steuart Smith and Richard Bennett keep things melodious as well as rhythmically charged up.

You can drive to this album or dance to it, kick up your heels or just kick back. Whatever angle it's approached from, Willis's music sounds remarkably good. (MCA)

The Rolling Stones

Let's hold off on deciding where these live performances culled from the 1989-90 Steel Wheels tour rank in the Glimmer Twins oeuvre. The bottom-line question is, Should you fork over $15 if you already have Let It Bleed, Get Your Ya-Ya's Out!, Sticky Fingers and Some Girls?

If you possess the aforementioned discs, keep your cash and remember the boys in their prime. Newer fans might pick up a copy of Flashpoint, if only as a souvenir of the concert.

The album's studio tracks—the rowdy single "Highwire" and the funky but lame "Sex Drive"—come off almost as teasers. Will Mick and Keith ever make another record? At least "Highwire," a rage against superpower arms peddling, is one of the few skeptical pop-rock star responses to the gulf war; Jagger deserves praise for taking an unpopular stand.

Of the live cuts, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" can still send a tingle up the spine when Keith strums those simple chords. "Brown Sugar," racist overtones aside, remains a paradigm of rock genius. Less exciting is the Stones' take on Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster," with Eric Clapton joining in ineffectually.

So how does the record stack up, historical context—wise? As far as live recordings go, it's better than the Stones' atrocious 1977 Love You Live collection. But it falls short of 1970's Get Your Ya-Ya's Out!, one of the most fervent tributes to rock's roots. (Rolling Stones/Columbia)

Peabo Bryson

While the soul-singing Bryson hasn't been a big hitmaker, he has consistently offered listening pleasure, even when he parks his talent too close to glibness. March him up the aisle with the right material, however—as this record does—and the result can be a taste of R&B heaven.

Give Bryson midtempo ballads like "Lost in the Night," and he'll spin out a vocal smooth as Italian silk. "I Can't Imagine," a duet with Regina Belle, is smashing too.

There's always a nicely tempered dynamic to Bryson's voice, due in part to his intuitive phrasing and his gift for emotional shading. On certain songs, such as "Closer than Close," there is a gospel feel to his delivery.

In terms of composition, there's nothing unforgettable on this issue. But it's all as sweet, creamy and hard to put down as a box of fudge. (Columbia)

  • Contributors:
  • David Hiltbrand,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Andrew Abrahams.