School's almost out, the days are getting longer and it's time to start looking forward to some new tunes to bang from the car stereo system with the windows down.
Albums by Lucy Pearl, En Vogue and Next top the list of upcoming releases, but the next few months will offer plenty of spankin' new music, from big names and up-and-comers.
As of press time, all release dates were accurate.
You can hear all four original members of En Vogue on Tuesday, though not on the same album. Dawn Robinson left the group in 1997 and formed Lucy Pearl with former Tony Toni Toné member Raphael Saadiq and exA Tribe Called Quest member Ali Shaheed Muhammad. The R&B supergroup's first single, "Dance Tonight" (RealAudio excerpt), was featured on the soundtrack of the movie "Love and Basketball" and is at #18 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop singles chart.
The group's self-titled debut is a blend of hip-hop and R&B, with the occasional rock and pop touch thrown in. Robinson and Saadiq share vocal duties on such songs as the lighthearted "Can't Stand Your Mother," the playful Sly & the Family Stonestyle "LaLa" and the nasty "Hollywood," which features fuzz-tone guitars that would sound right at home on an AC/DC album. Rappers Q-Tip and Snoop Dogg make guest appearances on "You."
Robinson, who said she left En Vogue because of musical differences, said she heard an advance of the girl group's Masterpiece Theater, and it confirmed her sense that the remaining three members of that group were headed in a different direction.
Funky pop sing-alongs are the order of the day on En Vogue's second disc as a trio, but they've added jazz and classical influences, most notably on a four-song suite that borrows musical motifs from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" and Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." "Beat of Love" bridges both styles, with cool-jazz horns and an eerie neoclassical chord progression.
F.A.T.E, a girl-group signed to rapper/talk-show host Queen Latifah's GhettoWorks imprint, release their debut, For All That's Endured, May 30. The group's first single, "Just Because," echoes Destiny's Child with its harmonies and plucked acoustic guitar lines. The album also includes the ballads "There'll Never Be" and "I Don't Need Your Money."
Flood Of Releases
June 6 is shaping up to be the biggest release day of the summer, with new albums from Will Downing, Kelly Price and Somethin' for the People.
Oakland, Calif., group Somethin' for the People's third album, Issues, includes the song "Now U Wanna," which disses superficial women and is something of an answer to TLC's "No Scrubs" and Destiny's Child's "Bills, Bills, Bills."
"The fellas got the bad end of the stick in 1999," group member Sauce (born Curtis Wilson) said. "We got to fight back for the fellas for the new millennium."
The album also includes "I Apologize," which features R&B singer Eric Benét, and "Bitch With No Man," a song that criticizes single people who meddle in other folks' relationships.
Brooklyn, N.Y., singer Downing's All the Man You Need finds him mixing jazz and soul, as he did on 1998's Pleasures of the Night. Price released her 1998 album, Soul of a Woman, after years of singing backup for everyone from Aretha Franklin to Brian McKnight to Puff Daddy. The new Mirror, Mirror includes the single "Love Sets You Free."
R&B diva Patti LaBelle will release When a Woman Loves on June 13. LaBelle has been recording since 1963, first with the Bluebelles and later with '70s funk legends LaBelle before embarking on a successful solo career in 1977.
The list of girl groups gets longer with the debut July 11 from Before Dark, Daydreamin.' The trio have less of a pop edge than Destiny's Child or En Vogue, though, and they add rock touches on "As Far As They Know" and hip-hop beats on "Come Correct." The album also includes the single "Monica," which is at #43 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop singles chart.
July 11 also will see the second English-language album from Japanese neo-soul singer Toshi Kubota. Nothing but Your Lover includes the Earth, Wind & Fireinfluenced title track and the acid-jazz-tinged "Sha-Ba-Da-Bu-Doo."
That's also the day R&B/funk group Vega releases their debut album, Life on Earth.
Old Themes, New Songs
Minneapolis' Next follow their 1997 debut, Rated Next, which featured the hit single "Too Close" (RealAudio excerpt), with Welcome to Nextasy on June 20. The vocal trio update their tried-and-true formula of sexually explicit come-ons, according to singer Tweet.
"The songs are fresher than on [Rated Next], because some of those songs went back to 1993, even though the album didn't come out until 1997," the 24-year-old said from the New York studio where Next were mixing the album.
The new songs include "Jerk," a tune about masturbating that features gangsta rapper 50 Cent, whose debut, Power of the Dollar, was released in October, and "Let's Make a Movie," which Tweet described as "ghetto R&B."
Sam Salter's "Once My Sh.." has been getting heavy airplay on urban radio stations, and he'll release his second album, Little Black Book, in August. Salter's first album, It's on Tonight, came out in 1997.
Also set for release this summer is the self-titled debut from So Plush, a group discovered by wunderkind producer Rodney Jerkins, who has worked with Whitney Houston and Destiny's Child and is producing Michael Jackson's next album. No street date has been set for the album, which features the midtempo "The Fact That You Lied" and the dramatic "Time's Up." Singer Keith Sweat and rapper Da Brat guest.
So Plush quickly dismiss the notion that they are just the protégés of a Svengali-like producer. "We had our own sound before we met Rodney," Racquel Campbell, 18, said. "It's not like he just found some little rugrats on the street and signed them up."
August also will see new releases from gospel-R&B singer Kirk Franklin's One Nation Crew and Cleopatra, another girl group in the Destiny's Child/En Vogue vein. The Manchester, England-based Cleopatra sold more than 300,000 copies of their debut, Comin' Atcha, and the follow-up, Steppin' Out, is due Aug. 22. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are among the album's producers, and the disc will include the eerie-sounding "Sweat Me" and the sassy "Who's Your Woman."