Robyn

Two years after she dominated European charts with her debut album, this 18-year-old Swede (real name: Robin Carlsson) has shot into the U.S. Top 10 by asking the lover's question, "Do You Know (What It Takes)." Apparently she does. Not only has Robyn mastered the English language (she writes all her own material), but she also challenges teen queens Brandy and Monica at their own hip-hop soul game. Just listen to the assured manner with which her voice glides over the swaggering, syncopated funk of "In My Heart" and "You've Got That Somethin'." And when she declares "Robyn Is Here" toward the end, there's no denying that a major talent has arrived. (RCA)

Dwight Yoakam

Like sneaking a look at a star's record collection, a cover album lets you find out just how cool your favorite musician is. And, as you might expect, Dwight Yoakam is the coolest. Among the varied artists given the Yoakam high five are the Clash ("Train in Vain"), Johnny Horton ("North to Alaska") and the Everly Brothers ("Claudette"). The problem is, Yoakam's versions are overdone: It may be fun to hear the Kinks' "So Tired" reworked into a ring-a-ding-ding lounge tune, but eventually the production razzle-dazzle and sudden leaps of genre get tiresome. At times, Yoakam sounds a lot like a guest star on his own album. (Reprise)

Various Artists

Various Artists

Whatever social and political chasms divide our planet, there is one challenge that unites parents everywhere: getting the kids to bed at night. As both these albums show, every culture has its lullabies to soothe and drowse, but The Planet Sleeps (Work), in its choice of performers, also reminds us of the strife that shatters nighttime's peace in many places. The traditional Yugoslavian song "Oj Talasi" (O Waves), for example, was recorded by a Bosnian choir that has since been decimated by that country's civil war. On a Starry Night (Windham Hill) pursues a cheerier vision. With such jazz and New Age performers as Bobby McFerrin and George Winston interpreting traditional lullabies from lands as far-flung as Ghana and Iceland, the results are gentle and pretty but oddly unexotic. Not as compelling a disc as Planet, perhaps, but a sweet way to drift off.

Lost Boyz

With tight production and a breezy, block-party beat, this Queens, N.Y.-based rap quartet has set heads bopping this summer in the parks, in Jeeps and on the dance floor. The party slows down for the somber "From My Family to Yours (Dedication)," in which the Boyz lament inner-city mayhem and pay homage to slain rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. And on "Beasts from the East," the group jams with hip-hop heavyweight Redman, wordsmith Canibus and the 14-year-old rapping prodigy A+. On their second album, Lost Boyz have found their way clear to a compelling vision of hip-hop unity. (Universal)

Ben Harper

On his remarkable third album, this 27-year-old singer-guitarist proves he has never met a musical style he doesn't like. Rural blues, reggae, funk, folk, country—Harper's goal seems to be to master them all. The electrifying "Faded" sounds as if Mississippi Delta legend Robert Johnson plugged in Jimi Hendrix's Stratocaster and learned to wail; with its wah-wah guitar riff and propulsive horn solos, "Mama's Trippin' " is like a '70s Sly Stone dance groove; the gentle "Widow of a Living Man" could be a Cat Stevens outtake. What keeps this musical mosaic together is Harper's pleasingly mellow vocal style and seemingly sincere (if at times unoriginal) lyrics about lost love and spiritual longing. On The Will to Live, Harper's impassioned artistry offers the perfect antidote to much of today's glib pop. (Virgin)

Whiskeytown

Hailed as the rough-hewn spawn of neo-punk's Replacements and Merle Haggard, Whiskeytown almost lives up to the hype on their major label debut. Songwriter-guitarist-singer Ryan Adams has an appealingly ragged voice, while Caitlin Cary's fiddle adds a welcome counterpoint to the North Carolina quintet's snarling guitars. Adams seems most at home exploring the barrooms and gutters of despair. "This situation keeps me drinking every goddamn day and night," he wails in the twangy "Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight." But by the end of Almanac it seems like Adams spends most of his time drankin' and thankin' and feeling sorry for himself. A guy who plays and sings this well should: a) cheer up and b) find something more interesting to write about. (Outpost)

>Bob Carlisle

KISS AND TELL

A musical journeyman who has written for Dolly Parton and sung backup for Barry Manilow and Mötley Crüe, Christian artist Bob Carlisle, 40, composed "Butterfly Kisses" in 1994 as a sweet-16 present for his daughter Brooke. The single reached the top of both the Adult Contemporary and Contemporary Christian charts in May, and in June his Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace) (Diadem/Jive) fluttered atop the pop album charts.

Has fame affected your family life?

Honestly, we were all content before. My life centers around my wife and two children, not the music business.

How do you feel about the two new country covers of "Butterfly" by Jeff Carson and the Raybon Bros.?

There's only one way to settle this thing: we're going to have to wrassle. We'll have the Butterfly Kiss-Off '97, and I could come in with tights and big, cheesy butterfly wings.

Has your crossover success made you an ambassador for Christian music?

I'm not comfortable with that position. I write music out of my passion, which happens to include my relationship with my Lord. I'm not out to secretly cram the Gospel down someone's throat.

  • Contributors:
  • Jeremy Helligar,
  • Amy Linden,
  • Peter Ames Carlin,
  • Richard Williams,
  • Mark Bautz,
  • Jason Lynch.