Regina Regina - Regina Regina (Giant): An impressive debut from the first female duo to emerge from Nashville in years. High-energy pop-country tunes such as "Right Plan, Wrong Man" and "Just a Little More Than I Wanted to Know" focus on life, love, and loneliness in the '90s with a distinctly female flavor. Both Reginas, past employees of Reba McEntire (one as a secretary the other as a back-up vocalist), display their newfound harmony in the slower ballad "Asking for the Moon." The song explains why men are from Mars and women are from Venus: "I'm not asking for much, a kiss or a touch, nothing that's hard to do."
- Skip Thurman
Enigma 3 - Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi! (Virgin): Compared with its first two releases, "MCMXZ a.D." and "The Cross of Changes," Enigma's latest CD is slower, less hip-hop and pop-sounding. By weaving together Gregorian chants, flutes, and synthesizer melodies, Enigma has still managed to produce beautiful mood music. It maintains a nice balance between female and male voices - it's not just German producer/composer Michael Cretu who sings. Sandra Cretu and Louisa Stanley lend their soft voices, smoothing out Cretu's rough edges. Enigma's ethereal, sensual sounds appeal to a range of listeners - from rock-and-roll lovers to classical music aficionados - because it's easy listening with an edge.
- Lisa Leigh Parney
David Bowie - Earthling (Virgin): More changes from David Bowie: The man who brought us such celestial albums as "Ziggy Stardust" and "Station to Station" has moved into an industrial mode. No heavenly ballads here. Just the fast, heavy background beat - "jungle" or "drum and bass" - that is popular in European dance clubs. "Little Wonder," the hit single, is catchy. "Battle for Britain" shows off Bowie's rich, perfect voice and his humor at the mixing board. This energetic work by a rock legend and visionary boldly goes where no earthling has ever dared to go.
- Liz Brown
Dry Branch Fire Squad - Live! At Last
(Rounder Records): Anyone who has ever witnessed lead singer Ron Thomason silence an audience in anticipation of his tales and then roll them over in laughter has surely awaited this live recording. And although you can never quite capture the magic of a live performance, this recording comes close. With his "I told you that to tell you this," he leads into every tune with a related story. The band is well known for being one of the finest bluegrass bands, rarely, if ever, straying from traditional bluegrass songs and gospel. The players in this band are some of the best in their field: Ron Homas plays mandolin and sings lead throughout. Singer and guitar player Suzanne Thomas is featured on "Hard Times" and again in an old-time "Red Rocking Chair," singing and playing the claw hammer banjo. Ethnomusicologist Bill Evans plays banjo throughout and is featured in "Blue Grass Breakdown." Mary Jo Leet plays guitar and sings backup, and Charlie Leet plays bass. Their final encore is a gospel tune.
- Deb Purington
Gate Street Blues - Live! on Blues Deluxe (GSB Records): Recorded live during a radio broadcast, this collection of nine blues classics, plus the original "Going Out to Breakfast," shows the boys can shuffle, boogie, and burn. Featuring the expressive harp of Pat Drzik playing against the impassioned guitar of Rick Miller, over the coolly steady rhythm section of Wes Hall on bass and B.J. LeBlanc on drums, their first CD keeps alive a bit of the electric blues sound of Chicago in the 1950s. Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Elmore James, and Willie Dixon are all treated with a respect that results in a satisfying blues experience.
- Jef Scoville
Franz Schubert - Mass in F, Mass in G (Sony Classical): The greatest masses are as majestic as they are reverent, and these Schubert compositions of 1814-1815 are fine specimens. The expansive F-major piece was the first complete mass he composed, and his apparent eagerness to go beyond acknowledged masters like Haydn and Mozart shows in the work's variety and eclecticism. The later G-major work is shorter and more inward-turning, although in this disc conductor Bruno Weil includes extroverted trumpet and tympani parts that were added by Schubert in later years. In all, a beguiling expression of faith, discipline, and beauty.
- David Sterritt