- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 14, 2002

FRANK SINATRA
Classic Duets and Christmas With the Rat Pack
(Capitol)
Frank Sinatra's death 4 years ago hasn't stopped the flow of "new" CDs issued in his name. Just in time for the recent 87th anniversary of his birth on Dec. 12, 1915, here are two more issued by Capitol, the company he saved from bankruptcy in the 1950s and to which he returned 40 years later to do the rather unsatisfying albums "Duets" and Duets II."
Boxed sets put out in recent years by Mr. Sinatra's various record companies RCA Victor, Columbia, Capitol and Reprise have defined each period of his career. The latest two CDs consist mostly of material collected from his television appearances of the 1950s, and the quality varies as much as the shows themselves.
For years, Mr. Sinatra was less successful on TV than on records, in movies and on concert dates. Small wonder that he had several shows canceled; the programs featured silly themes and sillier dialogue interspersed with a few songs. In 1965, though, Mr. Sinatra and producer Dwight Hemion hit on the idea of a one-man show, "A Man and His Music," that had nothing but the master himself singing classic songs in stark, understated settings. A string of equally successful specials followed into the early '80s.
In the "Classic Duets" CD, Mr. Sinatra actually sings alongside such musical biggies as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Peggy Lee, Ethel Merman, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley and others.
Possibly the best cuts on the CD are three fun-filled medleys: one with Dinah Shore, one with Dean Martin and one with Miss Horne. Mr. Sinatra excelled at this sort of thing and had a ball doing it, as opposed to the faux duets of the '90s for which he never laid eyes on his singing partners.
The Christmas album offers solo numbers by Mr. Sinatra and his Rat Pack pals Sammy Davis Jr. and Mr. Martin. His warm, sincere voice lent itself nicely to both traditional and modern holiday numbers, the best of which is the World War II heartbreaker "I'll Be Home for Christmas (If Only in My Dreams)." The set also includes two previously unreleased songs by Mr. Sinatra and Mr. Martin from the latter's '60s and '70s TV show: "A Marshmallow World" and "Auld Lang Syne."
Both "Classic Duets" and "A Rat Pack Christmas" are worth having for serious Sinatra collectors, with this caveat: As good as Mr. Sinatra could be with others, his best work was done solo as the greatest pop singer of the 20th century.
Dick Heller

Mariah Carey
"CharmBracelet"
(Monarc Music/Island Records)
The big question surrounding Mariah Carey's newest album, "CharmBracelet," is this: Does the 32-year-old multiplatinum pop princess have what it takes to return to superstar status?
The singer hasn't made any new music since her emotional breakdown and last year's release of "Glitter," her flop album and movie.
"CharmBracelet," her first on Island Records her second label in two years doesn't have the tour-de-force performances one expects from the Grammy-winning diva. Instead, Miss Carey seems frightened and bewildered, like someone stepping into the recording studio for the first time.
The album's first single, "Through the Rain," is a no-frills ballad that alludes to her breakdown. It's slow and simple, with Miss Carey in control of her vocals. But instead of showcasing melodies and solos that race through five octaves of high-pitched whistles and deep, dusky lows as listeners know she can do the song sounds modest and reserved.
Sexier hip-hop tracks such as "The One," "Irresistible" and "Subtle Invitation" follow, but Miss Carey just can't shake whatever reservations are holding her back. The beat carries the songs, and it's easy to forget who's singing certainly not the kind of impact she needs to make on a comeback record.
Associated Press

WHITNEY HOUSTON
Just Whitney
(Arista)
With all the drama surrounding Whitney Houston in recent years her marital discord, drug use, missed concerts and skeletal appearance it's easy to forget the superb voice that made her a star.
"Just Whitney" is Miss Houston's attempt to put the focus back on her music. Given what's on this disc, however, it probably won't hold anyone's attention for long.
The problem isn't with her dynamic voice, which still sparkles, though it sounds a bit raspy at times and doesn't soar as high as it once did.
What demotes Miss Houston from timeless diva to run-of-the-mill R&B; songstress is the choice of material. Though her previous songs have been criticized as schmaltzy or pop fluff, they had an appeal that, when combined with Miss Houston's regal voice, made them classics.
It will be hard to find any classics here. Ballads such as "Tell Me No," "Things You Say" and Miss Houston's remake of "You Light Up My Life" have little soul or spark. They typify a good portion of the songs nice to hear, but that's about it.
Perhaps the best of the bunch is her latest single, the sexy, dreamy "One of Those Days," which owes its hook to the Isley Brothers' "Between the Sheets." Also good is the soulful "My Love," on which husband Bobby Brown is a formidable duet partner, and the sunny "Love That Man," which could be an R&B; "Stand by Your Man" with its theme of loving a man despite times of trouble.
At times, the themes are more interesting than the songs, given Miss Houston's lifestyle. "Tell Me No" speaks of keeping resolve in the face of constant criticism, while "Unashamed" touts a no-regrets attitude.
The last song, "Whatchulookinat," which Miss Houston co-wrote, may provide some unintentional laughs as she blames the media for "trying to dirty up Whitney's name." With her recent admissions, Miss Houston has done a good job of that herself.
Nekesa Mumbi Moody, AP

Glenn Jones
"Feels Good"
(Peak Records)
A new label, and it feels good. R&B; music is making a change for the better, and it's no coincidence that Glenn Jones' "Feel Good" will be part of an evolution of singers rolling out raw soul sounds and rhythms to keep you grooving. Mr. Jones' new label, Peak Records, gives him more freedom to pen songs and showcase a vast array of talents and an unmistakable voice. You will hear "All That You Need," "In Your Eyes," "When Love Breaks You Down" and "I Wonder Why" and another called "Girl in the Corner," with a sprinkle of reggae flavor to keep your head rocking.
Fans of R&B; music will recognize Mr. Jones' distinctive riffs, plus added substance in songs geared toward love and romantic ballads. Mr. Jones poses questions unanswered until you listen to his lyrics, which steer you in a direction that will make things right in any relationship. He collaborated with R&B; artist Regina Belle, whose soulful sound is heard on the hit single "From Now On," and shares the recording booth with his wife and creative partner, Genobia Jeter Jones, for an interlude cut, "I'll Always Be Here." This CD returns Mr. Jones to the music arena with an album you will want to hear over and over again.
C.R. Hodge

The Blind Boys of Alabama
"The Blind Boys of Alabama"
(Real World Records)
The Blind Boys of Alabama are among the true legends of traditional gospel music. For more than six decades, the group has offered listeners inspiration and hope. Their new CD features both traditional and contemporary songs, thus keeping the spirit of pure soul gospel music alive and catching the ears of new listeners as well. The Blind Boys put a new spin on contemporary songs including Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground, " Aretha Franklin's "Spirit in the Dark" and Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready." They keep the old-school, traditional gospel with songs such as "Wade in the Water" and "Precious Lord." Founders Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and George Scott, along with Joey Williams, Ricky McKinnie and Bobby Butler, have remarkably kept gospel music alive with crisp blends of harmony and rhythm.
C.R.H.

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