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Holiday Recordings : POP : It's Ring-a-Ling Recordings Time : How Sinatra, GNR Stack Up to That Doggy in the Window

December 12, 1993

Calendar music critics and writers present their opinions on the year's recordings to help you through the holiday season. Some of the reviews may assist the gift-impaired: See our Top 40 Shopping Guide for the nation's most popular or critically acclaimed albums, and subsequent tips on the year's best children's recordings, the class of classical releases, which boxed sets are wothwhile (and which are merely long and expensive) and a spin through jazz and pop holiday music. The ratings range from one star (poor) to four (excellent). Five stars are reserved for outstanding historical retrospectives.

* * * Babyface, "For the Cool in You," Epic. In contrast to his production work with L.A. Reid, Babyface is more adept at mood-enhancing ballads than dance-floor jams. At this stage his music lacks depth and complexity, but the straightforward way he flaunts his emotions is more than fair compensation. (Connie Johnson)

* * 1/2 Blind Melon, "Blind Melon," Capitol. The L.A. band's debut is a bit like Jefferson Airplane or Fleetwood Mac doing Pearl Jam, highlighted by delicate guitar work and Shannon Hoon' attractively hermaphroditic voice. (Steve Hochman)

* 1/2 Michael Bolton, "The One Thing," Columbia. On several songs Bolton calms the wretched excess--which leaves them completely characterless. He's like the class bully who goes to reform school and returns better behaved--but so boring that no one will talk to him. (Jean Rosenbluth)

* * * Toni Braxton, "Toni Braxton," LaFace/Arista. She sounds like an unlikely hybrid of Phyllis Hyman, Anita Baker and Tracy Chapman, and she's armed with impressive tunes on her debut album. (C.J.)

* * 1/2 Garth Brooks, "In Pieces," Liberty. Brooks continues to serve up songs with strong points of view and penetrating looks at relationships. None of it, however, adds up to the breakthrough step that would take his artistry up another level. (Robert Hilburn)

* * * 1/2 Tevin Campbell, "I'm Ready," Giant. One of the best vocalists of his generation and a collection that's totally free of filler. Though his background is church-oriented, Campbell manages to sound comfortable in the racier setting provided by Prince's four songs. (C.J.)

* 1/2 Mariah Carey, "Music Box," Columbia. Carey has toned down her vocal showboating, but you still don't get much emotion from these pop-soul songs. They're geared to a Kenny G and Michael Bolton audience that likes its soul whitewashed and in small doses. (Dennis Hunt)

* * 1/2 Phil Collins, "Both Sides," Atlantic. The material is all uniformly pretty and expressively sung, but it's also just plain uniform. Some outside input might have freed Collins to do what he does best and provided some alternative ideas. (J.R.)

* * * Color Me Badd, "Time and Chance," Giant. What the group lacks in command, it makes up for in supple charm. Longer on laid-back appeal than substance, but there's a subtle, sumptuous craft in several selections, and a definite trace of maturity. (C.J.)

* * * Cranberries, "Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?," Island. The Irish group surrounds singer Dolores O'Riordan--whose quivering alto eerily resembles Joni Mitchell's--with Celtic-flavored folk tinged with gospel sensibilities. A beautifully understated debut. (Mario Munnoz)

* * * Cypress Hill, "Black Sunday," Columbia. This guided tour of the surreal world of psychedelic hip-hop boasts sharper insights, crisper beats and a more tantalizingly ominous tone than the South Gate rap trio's debut. (D.H.)

* * Eazy-E, "It's On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa," Ruthless/Priority. He seems to have been a more "authentic" hoodlum than any of his more talented former colleagues in N.W.A., and he devotes most of his weak-beat solo EP to proving this fact at tedious length. (Jonathan Gold)

* * * Guns N' Roses, "The Spaghetti Incident?," Geffen. The emphasis in this album of favorite songs is on obscure punk and hard-rock tunes. Despite the dangers of indulgence, GNR infuses it with the warm, disarming spirit of musicians eager to share some lively personal rock passions. Warning: Some listeners may be offended by the presence of a song written by Charles Manson, an uncredited bonus track that was not on review copies of the album.

* * * Ice Cube, "Lethal Injection," Priority. Ice Cube seems incapable of recording a bad album, and there's a presence in the production here that has been absent in his last couple of records. If you've followed Cube's career, you've heard much of this before, but it still may be one of the best rap records of the year. (J.G.)

* * 1/2 Elton John, "Duets," MCA. John and Leonard Cohen playing off each other on "Born to Lose" is alluring and unexpected, but the rest of the match-ups don't fare as well on this generally amusing diversion. (J.R.)

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