ALL TRUE MAN
Alexander O'Neal (Tabu/Epic 45349) It has never been a secret among R&B fans that Alexander O'Neal had the best voice on the Minneapolis soul scene. Powerful, expressive and emotionally convincing, the only thing his voice has ever lacked was the vehicle that would take it to the top of the charts. But now he seems to have solved that problem, thanks to "All True Man." Blessed with tough-minded, topical songs and bolstered by beat-savvy production (courtesy of one-time bandmates Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis), this album sounds like the "Rhythm Nation" of 1991. And that's the truth.
WHEN YOU'RE A BOY
Susanna Hoffs (Columbia 46076)
In their heyday, the Bangles seemed to take the term "girl group" as an insult, as if it demeaned their decidedly adult music. But "When You're a Boy," the first solo album by ex-Bangle Susanna Hoffs, is absolutely obsessed by girlishness. Hoffs has always preferred to purr her way through a song, but on this album, she takes that to such an extreme that even her best Ronnie Spector impression seems unduly kittenish. As a result, it's hard to take any of these songs seriously, from cutesy tunes like "My Side of the Bed" and "That's Why Girls Cry" to more substantial material like "This Time" and "Unconditional Love."
Gerardo (Interscope 91619)
There's nothing terribly novel about Spanish-language rap; indeed, recent successes by Mellow Man Ace and Kid Frost suggest that the sound has become so accepted that even Anglo audiences are listening. But "Mo' Ritmo," the debut of Hispanic rapper Gerardo, takes the approach a step further, fleshing out the bilingual wordplay with a decidedly Latin approach to rhythm. Instead of simply sampling some Santana, Gerardo builds his beat around conga and timbale for a hard-core Latin hip-hop groove that makes "Brother to Brother" and "Rico Suave" kick like nothing else in rap. And with "ritmo" like that, it doesn't take too many listens to want "mo'."
Blue Rodeo (East West 91601)
It's one thing to evoke the sound of the '60s -- throbbing Motown bass lines, chiming Byrds-like guitar chords, shimmering psychedelic organ -- quite another to recapture the spirit that made that music matter. But Blue Rodeo does just that with its third album, "Casino." Instead of dressing up its sound with retro-rock flourishes, the band keeps its arrangements clean and simple, with the emphasis squarely on the melody. And that's precisely what makes these songs sparkle, from the swirling chorus of "Til I Am Myself Again" to the forthright beauty of "Last Laugh."