Gloria Estefan (Epic)

Abandoning the crowded diva field to Celine, Mariah and others, Estefan ignores the ballads that have been her strength and turns the beat around to her mid-80s Miami Sound Machine days with this collection of lusty, Cuban-flavored disco and dance-party tunes. Sounding giddy over love and the libido, Estefan, 40, is helped here by big, big production numbers complete with strings, horns and a hallelujah chorus. Produced by her husband and Miami Sound Machine founder Emilio Estefan Jr., the disc brims with more than 70 minutes of music, including remixed versions of five of the CD's first 11 tracks. Odd as it may seem to include dance remixes of dance tunes, Fugees rapper Wyclef Jean's playful reworking of "Don't Release Me" is a delightful blend of Haitian hip hop and Cuban salsa. One suggestion: lose the drum machine. While it does no harm to dancing feet, it hurts the head.

Bottom Line: Sexy Miami club music that deserves a big olé

Rod Stewart (Warner Bros.)

Album of the week

It took mod Rod the better part of two decades to live down "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" the 1978 disco ditty that at once marked the pinnacle of his commercial success and the nadir of his critical standing. It was as a more mellow, almost folkie balladeer that Stewart finally redeemed himself with Unplugged...and Seated, the 5 million-selling 1993 live album that showcased his scratchy, Scot-soul vocals as well as his long-underrated songwriting skills. Still, fans who watched the concert on TV were dismayed to find the strutting rooster of yore and his former bandmate, Ron Wood, sitting still onstage like a pair of old folks at an MTV retirement home. Now, with When We Were the New Boys, the resurgent 53-year-old lets the rocker within come out to play. Just as he did in his early '70s prime, Stewart alternates chunky, bass-thumping songs (including Oasis's "Cigarettes and Alcohol," Primal Scream's "Rocks" and Graham Parker's "Hotel Chambermaid") with wistful love ballads (Nick Lowe's "Shelly My Love") and weep-in-your-pint story songs about lost mates and long gone good times (Rod's own "When We Were the New Boys"). Instead of ersatz classic rock, Stewart offers freshly minted versions of 10 winning tunes that he will no doubt perform alongside "Maggie May" and the rest of his crowd pleasers during an upcoming summer tour. Clearly, the old rooster is back on his feet again.

Bottom Line: Vintage Rod

Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

In their eight-year collaboration, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn have already become one of the bestselling duos of all time. Aesthetically, though, B&D have a way to go before they match the subtlety and musical sophistication of the top-selling team, Simon & Garfunkel, or that other two-man chorus, the Everly Brothers. This album, their sixth, is characteristically heavy on honky-tonky, ain't-we-the-good-ol'-boys tunes like "How Long Gone" and "Brand New Whiskey." The highlight, however, is a more thoughtful, calmer track, "If You See Him/If You See Her," a duet with Reba McEntire. And producer Don Cook and the boys were smart enough to dig up a sweet Micheal Smother-man-Greg Humphrey tune, "You're My Angel," and include the quirky Roger Miller song "Husbands and Wives." Because nobody expects the duo to become touchy-feely Sensitive New Age Guys, this adds up to a fairly entertaining package that shouldn't disappoint their old fans, even if it doesn't win them many new ones.

Bottom Line: Familiar-sounding honky-tonk from the boot-scootin' boys

Waddie Mitchell (Shanachie)

After 26 years as a working cowboy, Mitchell has long since found a second home onstage. On this live CD the homespun cowboy poet is joined by guitarists Don Edwards, Norman Blake and Rich O'Brien as he dispenses his tall tales, barbershop wisdom and cowboy lore in rhyme. Mitchell (who wrote about half the poems he recites here) is an unabashed western romantic, but he is also a charming humorist, and his CD includes comic rhymes of cowboy misadventures ("Goat on a Rope"), stuffed owls and even advice on how to cure a cross-eyed bull (don't ask). Starchy sophisticates may not embrace the CD's sentimentality, but those with softer shells will get a good laugh, and maybe something to think about.

Bottom Line: Horse sense and humor from America's best-known cowboy poet

  • Contributors:
  • Steve Dougherty,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Roger Wolmuth.