The musical textures range from the dramatic (the Geraldine Fibbers, Alanis Morissette and Pretty & Twisted) to semi-loony (Southern Culture on the Skids) in this edition of Calendar's guide to keeping up with what's exciting in pop on an album budget of $50 a month.
Albita, "No Se Parece a Nada" (Crescent Moon). The thunderbolts of applause after each number in Albita's recent Los Angeles debut at the House of Blues confirmed that this Cuban singer can captivate live audiences with her engaging mix of exuberant personality, flashy dance steps and invigorating music, which she sings in Spanish. The only question was whether the music alone would captivate on record. From the opening notes, the answer is yes.
The Geraldine Fibbers, "Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home" (Virgin). This engrossing new Los Angeles band writes about earthquakes, but they're not the physical kind. In gripping '90s tales drawn from the same character-rich streets that X explored in the early '80s, Carla Bozulich tells us of broken dreams and twisted psyches rather than collapsing chimneys and cracked foundations. Despite the intensity of the themes and vocals, the musicitself is far more open and soaring than the alternative-rock norm.
Alanis Morissette, "Jagged Little Pill" (Maverick). "Do I stress you out" is one of the best opening lines for an accusatory song in memory, and this 21-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter keeps the pressure on in an album that combines some Sinead O'Connor force and Elvis Costello lyric snarl. "You Outta Know," the most popular track, is such an intimate and raw expression of post-romantic fury that you feel like a voyeur just listening to it.
D'Angelo, "Brown Sugar" (EMI). No, this R&B newcomer hasn't covered the Rolling Stones hit, but the album's sexual emphasis and the wry, exotic production throughout this largely one-man debut leave little doubt that D'Angelo has spent lots of hours listening to Prince. The writer-producer-singer-musician asserts a consistent swagger and sureness that convince you he's got a big career ahead.
Southern Culture on the Skids, "Dirt Track Date" (DGC). This trio likes its goofy image of being the victims of too much hillbilly inbreeding. But anyone sharp enough to refer to cult hero Tony Joe White in a swamp music gem called "Voodoo Cadillac" (which sounds like a Creedence remake of a White tune) deserves our attention. Whether you like the self-conscious rockabilly posture of the Cramps or the unabashed love of tradition of Junior Brown, you're likely to be hooked.
Pretty & Twisted, "Pretty & Twisted" (Warner Bros.). It's always risky creatively to leave a successful artistic partnership, but Johnette Napolitano's move from Concrete Blonde to Pretty & Twisted results in her most affecting work. There is still a backdrop of desperation in such tunes as "The Highs Are Too High," but the music is richer--wistful and melodic in the remake of Roxy Music's "Mother of Pearl" but as cold and threatening as industrial rock elsewhere. A tour de force.