Lisa Fischer (Elektra 60889)
If, after hearing Lisa Fischer's debut, "So Intense," you find yourself thinking you've heard that voice before, odds are you have. A veteran studio singer, Fischer has sung with the best, backing up everyone from Luther Vandross to the Rolling Stones. Vandross returns the favor by producing four tracks on the album, but it's clearly Fischer's voice that carries the album. Strong as her voice is, though, Fischer prefers to finesse her performances; obviously, she's the sort of singer who'd rather smolder than burn. But that's precisely what puts the heat into this album, from the sassy swing of "Some Girls" to the sultry intensity of "How Can I Ease the Pain."
Kelly Willis (MCA 10141)
In country music, it doesn't really matter how well you can carry a tune -- it's where you take it that counts. Take Kelly Willis, for example. Sure, she sings well, and is blessed with a dark, honeyed tone that recalls Linda Ronstadt's early charm, but the real kick in her second album, "Bang Bang," comes from the way she uses that voice. It isn't just that she rips through the rockabilly title tune with the same aplomb she applies to the sweet, Mexicali cadences of "The Heart That Love Forgot" -- what makes this album so exceptional is the ease with which Willis makes both sound like separate threads in the same fabric. Definitely a star in the making.