Reborn country-rock sound is clear on Vince Gill's newest work

June 10, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

WHEN LOVE FINDS YOU

Vince Gill (MCA 11047)

Anyone surprised by the outpouring of enthusiasm over the Eagles reunion obviously hasn't been listening to country music lately. Nashville today sounds increasingly like the Southern California of the '70s, and few singers capture that reborn country-rock vibe as easily as Vince Gill. Cue up a copy of his current album, "When Love Finds You," and by the time Trisha Yearwood's harmonies kick in on the chorus to "Whenever Love Comes Around," you'll swear you're listening to some half-forgotten J.D. Souther ballad. That's not to say Gill doesn't occasionally sing 'em like they used to -- the fiddle and pedal steel that flavor "Real Ladies Man" make that much clear -- but he's far more convincing with contemporary material. In fact, the album's most interesting moments come when he wanders furthest from country convention, as with the Doobie-style boogie of "South Side of Dixie" or the satiny soul inflections that flavor the title tune.

SEAL

Seal (ZTT 45415)

Tradition has it that hooks are always the most ear-catchingly obvious part of any pop song, but that hardly explains the sly, seductive quality of Seal's second album. Unlike its self-titled predecessor, "Seal" doesn't boast any standout choruses or show-stopping grooves; instead, the music flows so freely that the album seems almost like a single, extended suite, modulating mood more often than focusing on melody. Don't be fooled, though. As intoxicating as the album's sense of atmosphere may be, there's a deceptively strong foundation of songwriting holding it all together -- it just takes a little long-term immersion to drink it all in. But once it has all sunk in, it's hard not to be dazzled by the understated drama of "Prayer for the Dying," the gentle beauty of "Newborn Friend" or the haunting power of "Dreaming in Metaphors."

WALK ON

Boston (MCA 10973)

For any other band, a seven-year lag between albums would be a sign of trouble or of bloat, but for Boston, it's just business as usual. Even so, it would be exaggerating to say that the band's fourth album, "Walk On," was worth the wait. Where Tom Scholz' painstaking studio craft once paid enormous dividends, both in terms of spirit-lifting hooks and ear-dazzling sound, it now seems merely the work of a talented obsessive. Sure, the instrumental sounds have been tweaked to within an inch of their lives, while the vocals -- provided this time out by Fran Cosmo, David Sikes and Tommy Funderbunk, who between them provide a reasonable simulacrum of Brad Delp's heroic tenor -- soar as expected. But the material seems less like a step forward than an unintentional parody of the band's worst mannerisms, from the pipe organ rumble of "I Need Your Love" to the bloated balladry of "Livin' for You." Sounds like these guys need to get out more.

HEART, MIND AND SOUL

El DeBarge (Reprise 45375)

Time was when El DeBarge's effortless phrasing and angelic tenor left a lot of people thinking he'd be the next Michael Jackson. Instead, his career went more like Jermaine's, slipping into the kind of obscurity from which few singers ever escape. But he may do it yet, for "Heart, Mind and Soul" is one of the most listenable and enticing albums of his career. It helps, of course, that he's working with top-notch talent this time around, including super-producers Babyface and Jermaine Dupri. But the bottom line is the singing, and that's where DeBarge truly delivers the goods. As good as it is to hear him re-create his old sound in the lithe, tuneful "Where You Are," it's even better to note how easily he moved from the rubbery funk of "Slide" to the almost ethereal soul of "Can't Get Enough," which, with its pleading falsetto and comfortable cushion of harmony, is one of the most addictive songs on the radio right now.

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