David Wilcox - Turning Point (KOCH Records): David Wilcox may have the most soothing voice in contemporary folk music. Even with his move to a more electric sound, this is a very easy-to-listen-to CD. Wilcox fans will be pleased that more than half the cuts have the familiar sweetness, even when they include drums and a bit of snarling unplugged guitar. "Kindness" is as beautiful as modern folk gets. Meanwhile, the spice includes the very hot jazz of "Right Now," the swamp rock of "Spin," and most interesting, the Beatlesque "Human Cannonball," complete with Mellotron. The writing reaffirms Wilcox as a top-notch philosopher/songwriter. The performance and production are pristine, as always.
- Jef Scoville
Richard Wagner - Highlights From Der fliegende Hollnder (Sony Classical): Wagner's towering "Ring" gets most of the attention, partly because it's so huge and brilliant that any new production has automatic news value, but "The Flying Dutchman" still ranks with his most rousingly romantic works, and its popularity quotient remains high. These excerpts are vigorously served by James Morris and Deborah Voigt as the Dutchman and Senta, with Ben Heppner, Jan-Hendrik Rootering, Paul Groves, and Birgitta Svendn in other roles. Nothing is exceptional or overpowering, but consistently strong characterizations by the singers and a steadily rich sound from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus under conductor James Levine make this disc a welcome arrival.
- David Sterritt
George Strait - Carrying Your Love With Me (MCA): In a world of country music wannabes, George Strait's new CD sticks out not only because it's the real thing, but also because it's so good. Like an open-windowed pickup truck at 80 miles an hour, the CD flies along from the beginning with "Round About Way," a rollicking farce of how a cowboy will miss his girl. The title track, getting heavy play, is destined to be a classic. "She'll Leave You With a Smile" cries with the kind of melancholy steel guitar that will make it a jukebox classic for years to come. Even Hank Williams Sr. would be proud of "I've Got a Funny Feeling," a comic tune about a husband's suspicions that his wife's permanent smile isn't because of their marriage. The CD's connection to country's tradition of simplicity continues with "That's Me (Every Chance I Get)": "Picture a fella with his boots shined up, a new coat of clean on his pickup truck, that's me every chance I get." Following Strait's previous CD, "Blue Clear Sky," this one slam-dunks Strait into country music's hall of fame.
- Skip Thurman
Michael Jackson - Blood on the Dance Floor: HIStory in the Mix (Epic): The gloved one's new collection, which has been released to disappointing commercial results, features five new songs and eight remixes, most of them previously unreleased, of songs from his "HIStory" album. The new material continues Michael Jackson's recent penchant for a harder-edged, abrasive style, with songs expressing bitterness and alienation presented in harsh, industrial-style arrangements. The remixes, courtesy of such dance-music all-stars as Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Wyclef (of the Fugees), David Morales, and Frankie Knuckles, don't add appreciably to the previous versions, except in greater length and faster beats.
- Frank Scheck