THE SOUTHERN HARMONY AND MUSICAL COMPANION
(Def American 26916) When most rock acts talk about having "soul," they usually mean it in the spiritual, not musical, sense of the word. Not the Black Crowes, though. As "The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion" makes plain, this hard-rocking sextet is as at home with the funky grooves and gospel-style vocal harmony as it is with roaring guitars and arena-rock bravado. Of course, a lot of that has to do with singer Chris Robinson, who pumps enough passion into songs like "Remedy" or the bluesy "Time Will Tell" to make the music smolder and the listener sweat. But the Crowes' real strength is its rhythm section, a lithe and lively unit that generates heat whether it's working a slow groove like that to "Sometimes Salvation," or a blistering boogie riff like the one in "Black Moon Creeping."
Annie Lennox (Arista 18709)
In the world of opera, the diva is considered to be a goddess-like performer, a singer of exquisite taste and expertise. But in soul music circles, the term connotes emotional power more than mere virtuosity, and that's the meaning Annie Lennox had in mind when calling her first solo album "Diva." Unfortunately, her own vocal strengths tend more toward technical polish than soul-style credibility, meaning that as easily as she navigates the slippery rhythms of dance songs like "Money Can't Buy It," or the dynamic range of ballads like the quietly dramatic "Why," her performances invariably offer more polish than passion. And though there's nothing wrong with a well-sung song, it hardly seems something a true diva would do.
SCREAM IN BLUE
Midnight Oil (Columbia 52731)
Live albums are often strangely lifeless, because most bands are more interested in documenting a perfect performance than in capturing the raw excitement of an actual stage show. Perhaps that's why Midnight Oil's "Scream In Blue" seems such a breath of fresh air. Sure, the playing is ragged in places, but instead of detracting from the music, these rough edges add to its impact, from the itchy intensity of "Progress" to the anthemic thrust of "Hercules." Even better, the fact that this album culls tracks spanning eight years of the band's history means the fans can savor everything from to the ambitious sophistication of a 1990 "Stars of Warburton" to the giddy ferocity of a 1982 rendition of "Powderworks."
Tori Amos (Atlantic 82358)
However much Tori Amos might look the part of the sensitive singer/songwriter, with music marked by her clear, cool soprano and pretty piano accompaniments, it doesn't take too many listens to "Little Earthquakes" to realize how much fire and steel lies beneath its seemingly placid performances. Quiet, after all, isn't the same thing as calm, and many of the songs here concern Amos' attempts to give voice to the emotions burning within her -- be it the sexual chemistry she plays with in "Crucified," or the terror and rage chronicled in the harrowingly .. understated "Me and a Gun." All in all, it's a breath-taking achievement, and an album that can easily become addictive.