Picks and Pans Review: Without You I'm Nothing

updated 09/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Sandra Bernhard

People with normal talents get called things like rock star or comedian. Neither word quite fits the exceptional Bernhard. When she tells stories, she taps into the rhythm and romance of a rock song; when she belts out a rock song, she fills it with a comedian's bitter wit.

Recorded live at Bernhard's hit one-woman show in New York City last year, this album is so intimate that when she razzes the audience, her poison darts zap out of the speakers with threatening force. Her tone of voice dredges up memories of a mean older sister who tortures her siblings just when they're trying to impress their pals. Instead of just poking fun from the outside, Bernhard climbs into the pretensions of people around her and makes them bigger than life, at once ridiculous and vaguely sympathetic.

Squeamish listeners should expect to be offended by identifiable flying obscenities, relentless shrillness and candid sex talk. (Sandy's close pal Madonna is only mentioned in passing.)

The album's biggest shocker, however, won't bother anyone: The woman can really sing. Color her Broadway, with a big splotch of Patti Smith. While comedy patter can grow thin, Bernhard's crooning keeps its sheen. The fact that she quavers on the tough notes and hams up the easy ones only gives the music more charisma. It's too bad she didn't include more complete songs instead of skewed excerpts from "Me & Mrs. Jones" or "Little Red Corvette." Obviously Bernhard's kidding when she calls Sammy Davis Jr. the hippest Jew in the world. That title can only go to the woman who thought of it. (Enigma)

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