Bernadette Peters (Angel)

Richard Rodgers's music is so transporting it seems to have come to Broadway from the Louvre. Peters is a peppy guide to some lesser works as well as bulletproof classics like "Some Enchanted Evening," "If I Loved You," "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame" (here wittily given a brassy striptease treatment; it's normally sung by lusty fellas). But just as Peters's ex, Steve Martin, once zoomed around a museum on roller skates in L.A. Story, these songs beg to be seen less reverently. How about freshening things up with fewer woodwinds and more guitar?

With stolid Broadway orchestrations and singing that has plenty of Mighty Mouse bravura but is more likely to shatter glass than hearts, this set doesn't add much to the tower of existing R&H recordings.

Bottom Line: Standard treatment

B2K (Epic)

At ages 16 to 17, the four members of this new R&B boy band make Boyz II Men look like doddering geezers. On the individual trading cards that make up part of the group's press-kit folder, the guys list such personal details as their star signs, favorite school subjects and the animals they'd most like to be. And, while Omarion, Raz-B, Lil Fizz and J-Boog may vaguely sing about desire on songs such as the percolating "Fantasy," they keep their lyrics strictly PG: "She's the hottest thing in school/ So I gotta play it cool."

Therein lies the refreshing charm of B2K (which means Boys of the New Millennium)—these teen heartthrobs don't seem to be in a hurry to grow up. The Los Angeles natives demonstrate an innocent, youthful appeal on a consistently likable album that features energetic, hip-hop-infused uptempo numbers and smooth-but-not-too-sexy slow jams. Although not quite in the league of Boyz II Men, they show a surprising maturity in their tasteful vocal delivery and lush harmonies on tender ballads like "Why I Love You," which even grown-ups should find pretty hard to resist.

Bottom Line: Boy-ant debut

Eliza Gilkyson (Red House)

Intimate, delicate-voiced and given to musical introspection, Gilkyson, a darling of the Austin, Texas, music scene, bears more resemblance to Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell than she does to her late father, Terry, who cowrote such pop hits as Dean Martin's "Memories Are Made of This." Literate folk traditions inform the singer-songwriter's seventh disc, with every tune telling a little tale, from the plaintive "Angel & Delilah" to the quirky "Mama's Got a Boyfriend."

While Gilkyson, 51, whose son Cisco plays drums on the album, is a grandmother, she hasn't lost touch with her sense of romantic whimsy, as she demonstrates on the sweet love song "Richmond Boy." The presence of brother Tony, a longtime guitarist with the L.A. punk band X, might have hardened the sound of this effort, but he wisely defers to his big sister: Her honest voice and understated, life-affirming lyrics remain the core of her songs.

Bottom Line: A neo-folkie find

Paul Westerberg (Vagrant)
Album of the week

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After Prince, Paul Westerberg was probably the most influential pop musician to come out of Minneapolis in the '80s. As the leader of the Replacements, which disbanded in 1991, he left his mark on everyone from grunge bands like Nirvana to pop rockers such as the Goo Goo Dolls. In his solo career, though, Westerberg has tempered his garage-punk with subdued, reflective balladry. On these two new discs, he segregates the 23 songs: Stereo is pensive, while Mono is rowdy.

Mono—which, according to the liner notes, was "played in a hurry, with sweaty hands and unsure reason"—has a raw, unfinished quality that is sometimes bracing but always invigorating. Westerberg brings a tunefulness to even the noisiest moments. Stereo, recorded over two years, is a much deeper, more developed work, but it still has plenty of rough edges, cutting off some tracks abruptly. Even at his most adult, Westerberg, 42, shows that you can take the boy out of the garage but you can't take the garage out of the boy.

Bottom Line: A pair of bull's-eyes from the Westerberg canon

Michelle Williams (Columbia)

Give Michelle Williams credit: While practically everyone expected Beyoncé Knowles to be the first member of Destiny's Child to release a solo album, Williams has beaten her to it (this, despite the fact that she was the last of the current lineup to join the hitmaking R&B trio in 2000). On Heart to Yours, her first disc as an Only Child, Williams, 21, has gone from bootylicious to Bible-licious with a gospel collection that returns the singer to her roots in the church choir.

Williams, whose raspy timbre makes her the least glossy of the Destiny's Child harmonists, has a soulful voice with a spiritual inflection that is pitch-perfect for gospel, from contemporary to more traditional numbers. And she seems to be inspired by her religious material here, even holding her own in a duet with gospel-great Shirley Caesar on a powerful rendition of the hymn "Steal Away to Jesus." A few of the tunes, including the title track produced by Williams's brother Erron and cowritten by the two siblings, sound a bit too secular, no doubt to appease Destiny's fans. On the stirring "You Care for Me," though, Williams shows that her heart really is music with a higher calling.

Bottom Line: Williams fulfills her destiny

  • Contributors:
  • Kyle Smith,
  • Chuck Arnold,
  • Ralph Novak.