Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
(Def Jam 48501)
After the success of soundtracks like those to "New Jack City" and "Boyz N the Hood," it might seem that the only way a hip-hop soundtrack can have any success is by being tied into some sort of gangster flick. But the soundtrack to "Livin' Large" (the film is scheduled for release later this month) should prove that assumption wrong, if only because its music is considerably more consistent than what its competition offers. An impressive survey of New York's finest hip-hop acts, it includes a couple of killer raps by the Jungle Brothers, an invigorating remix of Slick Rick's "The Ruler" by house DJ Mr. Lee, and Downtown Science's thought provoking "If I Was." Add in Alyson Williams' soulful "She's Not Your Fool," and the hit potential of "Livin' Large" seems too big to ignore.
THE ARTISTRY OF TONY BENNETT
Tony Bennett (Columbia/Legacy 46843)
Most of the time, boxed-set retrospectives enshrine only the commercial successes of a career. Listen through the 87 selections collected on "Forty Years: The Artistry of Tony Bennett," and Bennett's hits seem the least impressive aspect of his career. Not that there's anything wrong with "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" or its ilk; some of his most successful singles, like his stunning reading of Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart," were masterful performances. But because Bennett was at his best when plumbing the depths of a song, his awesomely beautiful voice shines brightest on such lesser-known gems as "Skylark" or his jazzy reading of "Some Other Time" with pianist Bill Evans. An astonishing collection.
Widespread Panic (Capricorn 10001)
Given the current boom in refried boogie bands, it's beginning to look like the South's gonna do it again yet again. Which is why we ought to be grateful for bands like Widespread Panic. This Atlanta-based quintet may understand the rules of Southern rock, but it refuses to wear them like a straitjacket. In fact, "Widespread Panic," the group's debut, actually manages to update that sound without losing any of its original spirit. At its best, the band seems to combine the old Southern rock with the new, fusing the iconoclastic intelligence of Guadalcanal Diary with the roiling improvisations of the Allman Brothers for songs as incendiary as "Barstools and Dreamers" and "Makes Sense to Me."
I REMEMBER CLIFFORD
James Williams (DIW-601)
In one sense, it shouldn't be surprising that jazz pianist James Williams has gone so underappreciated over the last few years. After all, his playing is so subtle and self-effacing that it takes close and careful listening to even notice how wonderful his ideas are. Still, it's hard to imagine the jazz fan who could hear "I Remember Clifford" and come away unimpressed. Williams' playing is swinging and incisive, making the most of his rhythm section (bass virtuoso Richard Davis and drummer Ronnie Burrage) while bringing impressive insights to familiar material. All told, it's an album that will make you remember Williams, too.