Shai easily segues from signature soul to rap, rhythm grooves

January 08, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

IF I EVER FALL IN LOVE

Shai (Gasoline Alley 10762)

First impressions aren't always the most reliable. After hearing the Shai single "If I Ever Fall In Love," it's easy to assume that all of the group's material follows the lead of this a capella gem, fleshing out romantic ballads with lush harmonies and languorous, soulful lead singing. But that approach only holds for the first half of Shai's debut album, "If I Ever Fall in Love"; skip to Side 2, and the music relies as much on rhythm tracks and rap breaks as it does on choral charm. And frankly, the Shai guys are good enough at riding the groove to make "Waiting for the Day" or "Flava" seem just as scintillating as their first single.

THE CHRONIC

Dr. Dre (Interscope/Death Row 57128)

As the man behind the hardcore slam of N.W.A., the D.O.C. and Michel'le, it goes without saying that Dr. Dre's solo debut, "The Chronic," kicks like a mule. It's full of fat beats, from the loping, jazzy bass of "Lil' Ghetto Boy" to the P-Funk stomp of "The Roach." But because Dre insists on living up to the other half of his reputation -- that of a brawling, woman-beating gangbanger -- "The Chronic" counters its musical smarts with all the worst excesses of gangsta rap. And while Dre's never quite hit the boorish lows of N.W.A.'s last album, it's going to take more than a few nastily funny numbers like "The $20 Sack Pyramid" to make this anything more than chronically disappointing.

ONLY FOR THE HEADSTRONG,

VOL. II

Various Artists (FFRR 162 351 007)

Perhaps the most persistent complaint leveled against techno music is that it relies too much on rhythmic velocity and not enough on melody. And while it's true that some techno singles seem about as tuneful as static, others -- like the rave faves collected on "Only for the Headstrong, Vol. II" -- offer plenty of reasons to hum along while dancing. Granted, the catchiest bits usually belong to someone else, like the snatches of New Order's "Blue Monday" within Electroset's "How Does It Feel?" or the Kate Bush sample (from "Cloudbusting") that forms the chorus for Utah Saints' "Something Good." But even the tracks that don't borrow so blatantly -- Manix's "Feels Real Good," for example -- make sure the melody is every bit as exciting as the beat.

NUMBER 10

J. J. Cale (Silvertone 41506)

Laid-back to an extreme, J. J. Cale's low-key drawl and dry, bluesy guitar often seem comfortingly monochromatic, as if he'd yet to get out of the groove he generated on "After Midnight" and "Cocaine." As such, the relative perkiness of his 10th album -- imaginatively entitled "Number 10" -- comes as quite a surprise. It isn't just that the rhythm work is more adventurous, with Cale trying his hand at a jazz samba ("Artificial Paradise"), a Cajun waltz ("Take Out Some Insurance") and a bit of electropop ("Jailer"); what really sets this album apart is the unexpected range of Cale's picking, which augments the usual blues moves with everything from bluegrass flatpicking to the fleet-fingered flourishes of "Digital Blues." Who said an old guitarist couldn't learn new tricks?

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