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October 19, 1994

Diver Down

WhalerSophie B. Hawkins, Whaler (Columbia 1994) -- Self-styled diva Sophie B. Hawkins has released her second album in Whaler. Backed by substantial help from producer and band member Stephen Lipson (who also worked on Annie Lennox's great disc, Diva), Whaler shows that the sometimes pretentious Hawkins has true talent. By shunning her prior efforts at bombastic sexuality, the music sparkles with pop brilliance.

Hawkins' first album, Tongues & Tales, contained the hit, "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover." While "Lover" reached number 5 on Billboard's singles chart, I was put off by it. Hawkins seemed too focused on using sex to sell her record, and obscured (or hid) her underlying talent. If she wanted to sell an album based solely on T & A, why not just pose nude on the cover?

With Whaler, Hawkins sheds her "Let's jump in the backseat" persona and instead focuses on the music. With terrific cuts like "Right Beside You" and "Did We Not Chose Each Other?", Whaler is the kind of album Basia or Madonna wish they could record -- fresh pop songs, with a smooth dance beat and flawless production.

Though the back half of the disc bogs down a bit, the highlights of the album support a claim for Whaler as one of the best pop-dance albums of the year. Whaler is the true essence of "adult contemporary" -- not the lightweight servings from Mariah Carey or Michael Bolton. Madonna may be passe, but Whaler shows that Hawkins has the potential to be the Next Big Thing. Here's hoping radio finds a place for her.

CachaoCachao, Master Sessions, Vol. I (Crescent Moon/Epic 1994) -- Israel Lopez, a double bass player and conductor better known as Cachao, is considered by many as the "father of the mambo." Now experiencing a career renaissance, Master Sessions, Vol. I shows Cachao's visionary understanding of Latin dance rhythms, including the mambo, the danzon, and the rumba.

Cachao was born in Havana in 1918, and comes from family with a lengthy musical heritage (at least 35 family members have played the string bass); Cachao and his brother introduced Cuba to the mambo in 1939. While other musicians gained greater international fame with these Latin beats (including Desi Arnez), Cachao continued as a Cuban treasure.

Cachao immigrated to the United States in 1962, and has lived in virtual anonymity in Miami for the last 16 years. In 1993, Cachao was pressed into service for a live show; this gig (and accompanying film by actor Andy Garcia) led to renewed demand for Cachao.

With his newfound fan following, Cachao traveled to Los Angeles in the fall of 1993 to record Master Sessions, Vol. I. Thirty cuts were laid down in one week; 12 instrumentals were then mastered for this disc. Even listeners who lack a background in Latin dance music will soon discover that there's something special about Cachao. The musicianship and arrangements are authentic (compared to David Byrne's stilted forays into Latin music), and the recordings have a special flair.

Master Sessions, Vol. I proves that you should never judge an album by its cover: while the artwork appears dated, the recordings and arrangements are all fresh. If you're looking for an introduction to classic Latin dance rhythms, give Master Sessions, Vol. I a spin.

Just Say RoeVarious Artists, Just Say Roe (Sire 1994) -- Just Say Roe, the seventh disc in Sire's acclaimed Just Say series, features 16 tracks from a mix of new and established Sire artists. In short, Just Say Roe has a little something for everyone.

While Just Say Roe has the ostensible goal of increasing awareness of issues involving sexuality and reproductive rights, the political message on Just Say Roe is happily muted; instead of pushing a cause, the album is really a sampler of Sire's recording acts.

Thus, Belly, a quartet featuring ex-Throwing Muses vocalist Tanya Donelly, provides a fun remake of "It's Not Unusual"; Madonna delivers a solid new cut ("Good-bye to Innocence"); and David Byrne contributes "Lilies of the Valley," a song with bendy guitars and a driving beat that's the best cut from his self-titled new album.

Also appearing on Just Say Roe are Ride, the Judybats, and The Water Lilies, whose strong cover of Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" shows that this tune isn't just a worn-out feminist anthem. All told, Just Say Roe is a fine compilation -- though it's all over the place in terms of genres, the performances are solid. If you want to find out what's happening at Sire, grab ahold of Just Say Roe.

Geffen Records -- Here's a brief history of Geffen Records. In early 1980, David Geffen launched the label under the auspices of The David Geffen Company (which also had interests in film and theatrical productions).

Geffen has long been one of the most powerful men in the music business, and soon signed superstars such as John Lennon, Elton John and Donna Summer to his new label. By the spring of 1994, Geffen's recording artists had earned 24 platinum albums (signifying sales of more than 1 million copies) and 72 gold albums (signifying sales of more than 500,000 copies).

Ed Rosenblatt has been at the helm of Geffen Records since its inception, and helped turned the company into one of the most successful independently-owned record companies in history. A subsidiary, DGC Records, was formed in 1990 to focus on alternative music (such as Nirvana and the Counting Crows). Also in 1990, Geffen Records was acquired by MCA, Inc.

Geffen recently announced his resignation from the music company effective April, 1995. After that time, he will devote his energies to his new motion picture venture with Jeffrey Katzenberg (who resigned this spring from Disney Pictures) and Steven Spielberg. President Ed Rosenblatt will continue to lead the company into the 21st century, and has promised new trips down the information superhighway, in addition to more great music.

-- Randy Krbechek

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