Rod Stewart (Warner Bros. 26300)
Strictly speaking, a pop singer can't make a comeback record without first going away. Yet somehow, Rod Stewart, who hasn't taken a break from singing since before his latest wife was born, has managed to make a comeback album, anyway. "Vagabond Heart" is more than a return to form for the aging rocker -- it's almost like a trip back in time. "Rhythm of My Heart," for instance, is as soul-baringly sentimental as any ballad from "Every Picture Tells a Story," while "Moment of Glory" rocks like a forgotten Faces single. "It Takes Two" finds his voice in such fine fettle that he almost overpowers his duet partner, Tina Turner. And it's been decades since Stewart evoked Sam Cooke as clearly as he does in "Go Out Dancing."
Sheila E (Warner Bros.)
Contrary to popular belief, Sheila E is not simply a creation of Prince's fantasy factory. Not only did she have a recording career before making the Paisley connection, she also had her own sound. And it's that sound -- sassy, soulful and percussive -- that powers the songs on "Sex Cymbal." Although the title tune makes it plain that she knows her way around a dance beat, Sheila E refuses to limit her music to such a narrowly commercial sound. Instead, she shows off her "Funky Attitude," uncorks a nasty Latin-funk groove for "Droppin' Like Flies," then one-ups Gloria Estefan's Miamisound on "Private Party." And, as "808 Kate" proves, this is one diva who will never need a drum machine.