RECORD GUIDE. ROCK/POP/JAZZ
Pat Benatar: ''Tropico.'' (Chrysalis FV 41471) - A fine new album for Pat Benatar. An album that shows a maturing for her band from the rockers where love was a battlefield - songs that were, admittedly, quite powerful. Instead, we have the still-poignant sound of a cut like ''A Crazy World Like This,'' where the sentiments are an appreciation for the faithfulness of a lover, and the music less guttural but still gutsy. Of course, Pat Benatar's voice - a remarkable rock instrument that's at once sweet and tart, tart with toughness telling of struggle - is supported and promoted by the fine songwriting of her band here. It knows, for instance, how to get all the mileage it can out of the good hook in ''Love in the Ice Age,'' where the song builds up the tension to the big release when Benatar belts out the core theme. The first single from the LP, ''We Belong,'' is a moderately good tune that's commendably more mellow, thoughtful, than many of her past hits.
David Hugh Smith Lindsey Buckingham: ''Go Insane.'' (Elektra/Asylum 60363-1) - Lindsey Buckingham's ''Go Insane'' is by far the most imaginative and musically innovative solo effort in the past couple years by a Fleetwood Mac-er. While this music certainly doesn't have the warm, comfortable feeling Christine McVie gave us on her fine LP from earlier this year, Buckingham has shown here a genius for experimentation that's still well within the pop idiom. Among the most striking cuts is ''Play in the Rain.'' Using repetition, water noises, and other sounds, along with his own voice - filled at times with self-pity - the result is a highly evocative song of loneliness. All this isn't to say Buckingham has jettisoned pop melodies. The romantic, fast-tempoed ''Slow Dancing,'' for instance, packs an acceptable pop tune. It then fades out with a few moments of dreamy acoustic guitar which, for an instant, brings into sharp focus the central themes of longing and unhappiness. Buckingham's versatility (he did almost all the instrumentals) is clearly seen in the different shapes his voice takes - now husky with excitement, now soft with sorrow, now blended electronically into a cheerful chorus.
D. H. S.$ Culture Club: ''Waking Up With the House on Fire.'' (Virgin Records OE 39881) - Culture Club would be easy to take at face value - though few people seem to. Their songs brighten the often barren rock airwaves with pop that's impeccably sung and arranged. Sort of a throwback to when a catchy tune and a pretty face were what it took to win a turn on the turntable (which isn't necessarily to say I recommend Boy George's eye liner and pancake makeup). The cheerfulness of the music belies the underlying scorn Culture Club holds for many of today's mores - and this has only added another dimension to their public appeal. There's no letup on this LP on the pleasant tunes that smoothly absorb styles from reggae to '50s rock. The lyrics, though, are a bit grimmer. They include ''The War Song ,'' the lines ''War war is stupid/ And people are stupid . . . .'' So much for buttering up an audience. There's an indefatigable pop rhythm here - from the cheerfully reggae ''Medal Song'' to the smooth and easy noises of ''Unfortunate Thing'' - that never lessens.
D. H. S. Neil Diamond: ''Primitive.'' (Neil Diamond and CBS Inc. QC 39199) - ''Primitive'' will appeal to those who have always liked Neil Diamond; yet to excite those who might have only been satisfied, this record vibrates out of those familiar grooves. Neil Diamond mildly jolts this album away from the familiar by stressing a more desperate emotional longing. This could heighten its emotional impact. In part, the lyrics to ''Turn Around'' - ''Turn around and reach for you and baby you were gone'' - illustrate this. Animated instrumentals permeate most of the songs. ''It's a Trip (Go for the Moon)'' accelerates into a rapid tempo and is supported by a strong, varied back band whose horns adroitly ease through each other. ''Love's Own Song,'' another number having exceptional backup horns, moves its vocals with tremendous finesse. Freeing them occasionally to allow them to pair up with the drums adds texture.A sort of jumpy tune, ''Brooklyn on a Saturday Night,'' captures the prize for being the most diverse. It initially takes one into a clandestine alley with its eerie bass lines accompanied with the snapping of fingers, then slithers into a jolly dance club by speeding up the drums. This transfer occurs repeatedly. For additional piquancy this album includes a Christmas song. ''You Make It Feel Like Christmas,'' a slow methodical song, skates through towers of bells that ring a nice slow chorus. A rather inspirational piece of work, ''Primitive'' reassures the Diamond following that he is still unraveling talent.
Roger Dean ju Mars Hall, Daryl, Oates, John: ''Big Bam Boom.'' (RCA AFL 1-5309) - Hall & Oates: their dense, layered sound is not quite to my taste. So when I say I found a couple of gems on this LP, this isn't just pleasant noises from a fan. ''All American Girl'' and ''Possession Obsession'' are the savvy kind of tunes that represent the duo at its best. ''American Girl'' is an arch, stylish little song about a girl who conforms herself to others. ''Possession Obsession'' is a smooth, clever essay on the stress of possessive friendship. The single ''Out of Touch'' is quite evocative as well - effective in creating a mood I read as energetic longing, if there is such a thing. While the musicianship of the other songs here is impressive, I found them, as a whole, wearyingly busy - and lacking in a certain musicality that would soothe the ruffled ear.
D. H. S. Chuck Mangione: ''Disguise.'' (Columbia FC 39479.) - ''Feels So Good'' - the title of Mangione's very popular LP from a few years ago - might also describe ''Disguise.'' There's nary a harsh note in this album of smoothness and compatibility. Relax, spread out on a deck chair, put on some sunglasses. . . . Yet, there are disappointments here. Mangione lets his producer for this LP, Eumir Deodato, push him dangerously close to disco-jazz. Most cuts incorporate Deodato digital drum programs, which often serve to trivialize Mangione's mellow flugelhorn. Too, Mangione seems to have grown overly comfortable with arrangements that give his songs a very similar texture. The best cut - ''She's Not Mine to Love (No More)'' - is a soft, tender song on which Mangione fortunately lets Deodato put away his drum programs. There's also a curious little cut topping the flip side - ''Shirley MacLaine.'' On a busy, rhythmic background, MacLaine delivers a raspy, rambling ''rap,'' mostly directed at Mangione. Here's one for the exercise classes. Nonetheless, taken as a whole, the LP is classy and melodic. A completely charming - but not challenging - Mangione.
D. H. S. Prince Far I and the Arabs: ''Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter 1.'' (ROIR A129) - To make a ''dub'' recording, you start with an existing tape of Jamaican-style reggae' pop and edit out all the sound except the rhythm section. Then you remix this however you choose, adding bits and pieces of the other instrumental tracks , but leaving out the vocal. If artfully executed, the result combines powerful rhythms with subtle melodic flavors. This album is the first in a ''Cry Tuff'' series by the late Prince Far I, also known as King Cry Cry and Michael James Williams. Mixed by British dub specialist Adrian Sherwood, it's an impressive example of how the modern recording studio can serve as a kind of meta-instrument, serving up a thumping new rock sound that would be unobtainable any other way. The notes include a brief account of Prince Far I's career and a funky autobiography in free verse. (Available on cassette only.)
David Sterritt Kenny Rogers: ''What About Me?'' (RCA AFL1-5043) - ''What About Me?'' delivers a generous supply of country/pop. That said, the word ''bland'' asserts itself. These songs are easy to listen to - dependable pop that would be relaxing to tune in to on a turbulent plane trip. But the total effect is so colorless that the sound washes over you with little or no residual remembrance. Some of Rogers's earlier songs, especially ''Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town'' (when he was teamed with The First Edition) and ''Coward of the County,'' had significantly more impact. That's not to say there's not some good music here. ''The Stranger,'' a tune by Dolly Parton, is a slice from Rogers's salad-ballad days of ''The Gambler'' and is quite affecting. The title cut, a daringly sentimental effort shared with Kim Carnes and James Ingram, is listenable enough. I liked ''Somebody Took My Love,'' mostly for its smooth pop hook. The rest, in large part, is pleasant but forgettable.
D. H. S. Stacy Rowles, trumpet and flugelhorn; Jimmy Rowles, piano; with Herman Riley, tenor saxophone and flute; Chuck Berghofer, bass; and Donald Bailey, drum: ''Tell It Like It Is.'' (Concord Jazz CJ-249.) - Jazz critic Leonard Feather comments in the liner notes that this album ''. . . marks the first time a father-and-daughter instrumental team has collaborated on a jazz album.'' And a sweet collaboration it is. Miss Rowles is a talented player (she is currently a member of the jazz quintet ''Alive!''), who manifests a striking simplicity and melodic approach to her instrument - unusual among today's younger players. Jimmy Rowles, alumnus of the Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Woody Herman bands , and Ella Fitzgerald's longtime accompanist, is her perfect complement. His subtle touch and humorous punctuations blend charmingly with Stacy's horns and Herman Riley's comfortable tenor sax. The rhythm section supports nicely throughout a selection of standards and jazz tunes, including Duke Ellington's ''Alabamy Home,'' Lee Morgan's ''Most Like Lee,'' and Billy Strayhorn's ''Lotus Blossom.'' A cozy, relaxed session.
Amy Duncan Frank Sinatra: ''L.A. Is My Lady.'' (Qwest 25145-1) - Although Frank Sinatra headlines ''L.A.,'' Quincy Jones and his orchestra steal the show. As Sinatra tosses off tunes as if the most casual note from the Voicecapped is golden (it isn't, I'm afraid), Jones and company deliver crisp, superbly arranged musical accompaniment. On the title cut, Sinatra tries to do for the freeway city what he did for the Big Apple several years ago - create a theme song of sorts. Unfortunately, the Quincy Jones/Peggy Lipton Jones melody is mundane - almost wearying - at least as sung here. There are a couple of other forgettable new songs before Sinatra plunges into the standards, including a nicely styled ''Mack the Knife.'' George Benson - who's among the special musicians assembled for this record - delivers one of his luscious but all-to-brief jazz guitar solos here. Not so luscious, overall, is Sinatra. He gets a bit raspy at times during this uneven, sometimes careless performance. (The first few verses of ''Stormy Weather'' are simply awful.) Nonetheless, Sinatra is quite effective during his better cuts. This is not the classic Sinatra, to be sure, but with some help from Quincy Jones, ''L.A.'' is a passable addition to Ol' Blue Eyes's oeuvre.
D. H. S. Barbra Streisand: ''Emotion'' (CBS OC 39480) - A intriguing combination: music by John (Cougar) Mellencamp, lyrics by Barbra Streisand. ''You're a Step in the Right Direction'' is but one of the finely sung songs on Streisand's newest LP -- and the one that crosses the furthest into rock. But as with the rest of the cuts on this disk, it's tough to get emotional over this - there's nothing here that stays with you after the needle has passed over it. Pleasant - but unmemorable - cuts include a duet with Kim Carnes and several songs produced by Earth, Wind, and Fire's Maurice White. Snatches of chorus on the latter stir the memory to the heyday of EWF. This is good but not show-stopping music (plenty of creamy love songs), with Barbra brilliant as always.
D. H. S. Sor, Fernando: ''Seguidillas''; ''Andantino for Guitar.'' Martin y Soler, Vincente: ''Canzonette''; ''Una cosa rara.'' Teresa Berganza, mezzo-soprano. Jose Miguel Moreno, romantic guitar. (Philips digital 411 030-1.) - Teresa Berganza, one of the most cherishable singers of the day, has never been one to stay away from unfamiliar repertoire. The record in question is a delectable selection of voice and guitar music by two noted Spanish composers of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The recording is simplicity itself, and Miss Berganza's subtle, nuanced ways of weaving magic spells with her voice are effortlessly captured. But Miss Berganza's singing is never art serving artifice but rather direct communication. In a word, enchanting.
Thor Eckert Jr. Stravinsky, Igor: ''Oedipus Rex.'' Jessye Norman (Jocasta); Thomas Moser (Oedipus); Siegmund Nimsgern (Creon/Messenger). Male Chorus and Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio, Sir Colin Davis, conductor. (Orpheo digital S 071831 A.) - ''Oedipus Rex'' has not been wanting for good recordings over the years. Stravinsky's work is labeled opera, although some have called it oratorio. Whatever it is, it offers a great challenge to a tenor in terms more of flexibility of voice than extension of range, and it is one of the great scenes for mezzo-soprano in the 20th-century vocal literature. Thomas Moser sings the title role with more grace and heartfelt meaning than any other Oedipus of the stereo age. Jessye Norman gives a riveting performance as Jocasta - so special as to be worth the price of the record by itself. Yes, she is a soprano, but the propulsive richness of the lower voice is used to shattering effect here. The rest of the cast is splendid. Michel Piccoli narrates in superlative French, reminding one of Jean Cocteau, who wrote the text for Stravinsky. Davis's conducting is about the finest thing he has done in years on records. A brilliant accomplishment on all counts.
T. E. Jr.