Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers

When the streetwise, hip-hop beat of "Raw Riddim" opens Marley's third major-label album, the ears perk up, the head tilts slightly.

"Uh-oh," says the skeptic. "What's the Zigmeister up to? Is this some kind of New Jack Reggae?"

Actually, Marley's willingness to tinker with the at-times-wearying Rasta rhythm is one of this album's strengths. On 1989's One Bright Day, Ziggy smoothly blended the reggae grooves perfected by his late father, Bob, with a punchy rock edge. Here he sticks mainly to straight reggae. And while Ziggy sets things cooking on "Good Time," he relies on what are mostly routine songs, many of which he cowrote.

If workmanlike reggae is what you're looking for, Jahmekya will fill the bill. Just don't expect any surprises. (Virgin)

Fred Simon

Jazz fusion is an orphan, scoffed at by purists of all persuasions. But when it's done as well as this record by Chicago composer-pianist Simon, you get the best of both worlds: the coy, pretty side of pop with the more sophisticated instrumentation and arrangements of jazz.

That admixture is manifest on the title track, a stirring anthem Simon takes through a number of variations, gaining momentum with each unexpected turn. But using that most versatile of instruments, the acoustic piano, as a foundation, Simon explores many moods on this record.

There's the soaring sentimentality of "Home," the quiet "Thanks, Pardner," which takes off on a western tangent, and the tart funkiness of Josef Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" (a Buckinghams hit in 1967).

For those who fondly recall the fusion frisson that was generated by such past albums as Pat Metheny's American Garage, take note: There's a new musical physicist in town. (Columbia)

Tony Bennett

Like his contemporary Rosemary Clooney or a younger generation's Bonnie Raitt, Bennett has gotten better with age—and he wasn't all that shabby when he started out either.

This four-album retrospective has 87 tracks, from "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," cut in 1950, to "When Do the Bells Ring for Me," from 1989. While it includes a total of 80,000 or so too many violins—string sections and Bennett suggest a gummy sauce on a good steak—it is a marvelous mixture of the familiar and surprising, produced by Didier C. Deutsch.

The early tunes, from Bennett's Mitch Miller—produced period, include such schmaltz as "Rags to Riches" and "Blue Velvet." But he has always been able to find new takes on even overexposed songs—"Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)," say, or "For Once in My Life."

At the same time, he routinely uncovers rarely heard treasures. Some are by name composers (the James Van Heusen—Sammy Cahn tune "I'll Only Miss Her When I Think of Her" or the Richard Rodgers—Martin Charnin song "I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You"). Others are by such lesser known names as Bob Dorough ("I've Got Just About Everything").

Whatever his songs' origins, Bennett treats them with the greatest of care and delicacy—what a joy it is to hear a pop singer who really thinks about the lyrics he sings. Whether his backing is the great Basie band of the '50s or the trio of his splendid longtime accompanist, Ralph Sharon (or even the accursed violins), he is an artist for whom the magnificent is all but routine. (Columbia/Legacy)

Various artists

Marion Williams

These two releases are a feast for gospel-music fans, one a reissue of classic '40s-'50s material, the second a contemporary recording by one of that era's worthiest stars.

The Gospel Sound of Spirit Feel offers a full spectrum of post-World War II gospel, from the rollicking, blues-drenched "99½" by Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Katie Bell Nubin to the jubilee-style formalism of the Fairfield Four's "Tree of Level." The album is filled with an irresistible mix of high drama, sensuality and vocal power.

Marion Williams, whose majestic voice is included twice on this collection, is far from a relic of gospel's golden age. Strong Again, her fourth Spirit Feel album, will only enhance her reputation as a pillar of traditional gospel. While this release lays more emphasis on the stately hymns of Dr. Isaac Watts and Thomas A. Dorsey, such songs as "Prayer List" and "O Happy Day" will satisfy fans of her more rousing, sanctified rockers.

Produced by gospel historian Anthony Heilbut, these albums convey respect for the past without being stodgy. They achieve the kind of joy and transcendence that pop music so often seeks and so rarely finds. (Spirit Feel/Shanachie)

Foreigner

Yes

Call it a leather-collar crime.

Here's the offense: A "supergroup" from days gone by decides to put out a record full of the aural equivalent of butterscotch pudding. Then, these mastodons of rock take to the road and milk all the marquee value they can out of their presumably prelegendary names. And, at least in Yes's case, an inexplicable, imponderable thing occurs: People start filing into the arenas like zombies from Night of the Living Dead.

This is Foreigner's first record in four years (stop the presses!), and Kentuckian Johnny Edwards has replaced Lou Gramm at the mike (on second thought, keep 'em rolling).

As to Yes, members from the band's various past lineups have joined forces after two years of legal squabbling over use of the Yes name.

So what's left to talk about? Well, band leader Mick Jones gives us no reason to remember the old days of Foreigner. Most of his songs are connect-the-dot rock numbers.

Yes, on the other hand, sounds like they weren't even in the same studio together. And most of the time, they weren't. See, Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe were doing their own album. Meanwhile Chris Squire, Alan White, Tony Kaye and Trevor Rabin had been laying down tracks for another album. Rabin was into a solo project and...oh, forget it. The details, like the music, overdub themselves numbingly. (Foreigner, Atlantic; Yes, Arista)

>"BRING THE NOISE" ANTHRAX Thrash metal meets rap as Public Enemy's Chuck D joins Anthrax in a fiery midair collision. From Attack of the Killer B's (Island)

"MY SPECIAL CHILD" SINÉAD O'CONNOR Plaintive going on tortured, O'Connor's song is about parents separated from their children. Proceeds go to a Red Cross fund for Kurdish refugees. A CD-only single (Chrysalis)

"SPACE COWBOY" SPINOUT A cover of Steve Miller's tune makes up in punk spunk what it lacks in style. From Spinout (Delicious Vinyl)

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