The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1968-1992)
Richard Pryor (Warner Archives/Rhino)

Because he made us think as we laughed—and because he found humor in such not always amusing subjects as drugs, sex and, especially, race relations—Pryor is often compared with another scathingly intelligent and tragically self-destructive comic genius, Lenny Bruce. But unlike Bruce, a cult figure whose fame grew after his death at age 40 in 1966, Pryor, now 60, was a Grammy-winning stand-up performer and a top film star thanks to hits like 1980's Stir Crazy. Today, his profane and passionate voice is seldom heard; the debilitating neurological disease multiple sclerosis has all but ended the longtime stage dynamo's career. And so this nine-CD box set, which boasts most of his recordings from the peak years of his career, including one disc of previously unreleased material, is a most welcome reminder of his sadly silenced genius.

Bottom Line: Pure gold

Vitamin C (Elektra)

Album of the week

For Vitamin C, the artist formerly known as Colleen Fitzpatrick, it is going to take more than a B [Sub12] shot to avoid sophomore slump after her self-titled debut CD, which capped (and gowned) playlists last spring with the weep-along anthem "Graduation (Friends Forever)." That single helped move more Vitamin C than Linus Pauling. Now, like many of her older teen fans, the singer faces the daunting question: What to do after "Graduation"? Here then is her follow-up, wisely released before memory of the song fades among attention-deficient pop fans. While none of the 12 tracks sound like instant hits (except her sprightly rendition of the Waitresses' 1982 gem "I Know What Boys Like"), Vitamin C demonstrates there's not an acidic molecule in her soul. Though at 30 she is very much a grown-up, even tunes like "Sex Has Come Between Us," about a friendship turned to romance, prove she left her heart in high school.

Bottom Line: Fresh-squeezed

Jimmy Smith (Blue Thumb/Verve)

You've heard it at roller rinks, wedding receptions and funeral parlors. But the Hammond B-3 organ has also graced countless pop music recordings with its surging, thunderous sound. Among the instrument's foremost masters is jazzman Smith, a 72-year old California-based session musician and recording artist in his own right who here puts his big rig in the service of 11 new and classic rhythm and blues numbers, as well as a lovely, lulling version of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo." With guest vocalists Dr. John ("Only in It for the Money"), Taj Mahal ("Strut"), Etta James ("I Just Wanna Make Love to You"), B.B. King ("Three O'Clock Blues"), Keb' Mo' ("Over & Over") and backup singers Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowen, Smith performs those tunes as well as four original instrumentals (including the swinging title jam). Both a virtuoso player and a funk-loving composer, Smith is clearly glorying in his reign as the widely acknowledged "King of the Hammond B-3."

Bottom Line: Pumping a sonic Niagara Falls

>Dolly Parton

Nashville's younger stars may have eclipsed icons like Dolly Parton, but Parton, 55, who lives in Brentwood, Tenn., with husband Carl Dean, 58, a contractor, isn't singing life-done-me-wrong songs. She's recording a second album of good ol' bluegrass, the music she was weaned on.

Why a bluegrass CD?

It's the music that I sing the best and enjoy the most. It's the music that brought me to Nashville. But you couldn't make a living doing it. I had to get rich so I could sing like I was poor, which is what I've done.

Do you enjoy today's country stars?

Faith Hill and Shania Twain are doing wonderful stuff. If there are complaints, it's older artists moaning about not getting played on the radio.

How did you manage to write 3,000 songs?

I write in the bathtub, in the kitchen, on the plane, on the bus. It's my therapy.

Why did you dedicate the new album to your dad?

My daddy just died. He used to call me his little songbird. He always wanted me to sing music like this. He used to say anything with electric guitars was rock and roll.

  • Contributors:
  • Amy Linden,
  • Steve Dougherty,
  • Joseph V. Tirella.