Harry Connick Jr. - To See You (Columbia): Multitalented Harry Connick Jr. emphatically responds to those who say romance is no longer a subject for today's songwriters with this new release. Pianist Connick, who leads his strong jazz oriented quartet of bassist Reginald Veal, saxophonist Charles Goold and drummer Arthur "Bam Bam" Latin, delivers the perfect combination of ingredients: his own vocals, the rich jazz flavor contributed by Veal and Goold, and his own sterling orchestrations make this album appeal to a broad spectrum of tastes.
- Dick Bogle
Tito Puente - Oye Como Va: The Dance Collection (Concord Picante): If you can own only one album by the king of Latin dance music, this should be it. For more than 50 years, Tito Puente, who was recently awarded a National Arts Medal, has been playing timbales and leading big bands; in the process, he's released 114 albums and written more than 500 compositions. This compilation collects his best dance numbers, a mix of mambos and cha cha chas, and includes such classics as "Mambo King," "Mambo Diablo," "Machito Forever," and, of course, "Oye Como Va." Puente's propulsive arrangements on these tracks, several recorded live, demonstrate why he's the best.
- Frank Scheck
Rolling Stones - Bridges to Babylon (Virgin): The band's 39th album contains instrumental techniques more akin to the Beastie Boys than the Chicago blues. There's even a vocal cameo by rapper Biz Markie. But somehow, the Rolling Stones have managed to get away with it. The album's tightest tracks are the ones co-produced by the Dust Brothers, the hip young duo better known for their work with Beck. These include the album's first single, "Anybody Seen My Baby," and the rowdier "Gunface," and "Saint of Me." Their themes - love gone bad and the joy of devilish behavior - are standard Stones, but their studio overdubs make them uncharacteristically grooveable. Traditionalists need not worry, though. There are several moody Keith Richards ballads, and an eminently singable track, "Already Over Me," that's admirably vintage.
- Sam Walker
The Spice Girls - Spice World (Virgin): It appears the Spice Girls still know what you want, what you want, what you really, really want. With "Spice Up Your Life," the sassy, brassy Brits will have teenage mall rats and pop fans bopping their heads well into the new year - while the rest of us wonder why the Spice Girls are still so popular. The album's theme is female empowerment, even though there is an absence of a serious female voice. On the first single, "Spice Up Your Life," the quintet serve up a peppery dish with Caribbean flavor. However, on the clich-riddled "Lady Is A Vamp," the Girls leave listeners with a bland taste as they sing about Elvis, Jackie O., and Charlie's Angels over a jazzy beat.
- John Christian Hoyle