Cheryl “Pepsii” Riley
At the heart of soul is the eternal question, how do you call your lover boy? Two underappreciated divas from opposite sides of the ocean tackle the age-old query with different and totally satisfying answers.
Mica (pronounced Meesha) Paris is blessed with a smoky, throaty alto that belies her youth (she’s 23). Hugely popular in her native England, Paris has released two albums in the U.S. that failed to make any real impact though they signaled the arrival of a significant new soul-pop chanteuse. The buzz might build, though, with Whisper (Island), which places her torchy, retro shadings atop state-of-the-art, made-in-the-U.S.A commercial R&B. Working with sought-after producer-songwriters Narada Michael Walden (Whitney Houston) and Rod Temperton (Michael Jackson), Paris has all the au courant blips and beats to ensure a hit but sacrifices none of her delicious, womanly sound.
Brooklyn’s Riley scored with issue-based songs (child and wife abuse, for instance). While well-intentioned, the material made her seem like Oprah with a sequencer. Here, Riley is working with the production unit Full Force, whose work hasn’t sounded this good since their days with Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. All That (Reprise) lives up to its title; leaving social commentary in the dust (save for the album’s weakest cut, “Stephanie,” about an abused child grown up), Riley concentrates on saucy, sexy music that welds hip-hop grooves to expansive, street-savvy vocals. “Love of My Life” takes the undulating break from Apache’s “Gangsta Bitch” and hooks it to a fevered tale of adultery, from the cheating wife’s viewpoint. With the success of Mary J. Blige last year, the so-called new Jills (Jade, SWV, TLC) are lining up to strut their stuff. With this record, Riley moves to the head of the line.
THE DAVE EDMUNDS ANTHOLOGY (1968-90)
With his rockabilly twang and quicksilver chords, Edmunds, though Welsh, could be considered an icon of classic American rock. Influenced heavily by Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, Edmunds, 49, incorporates his ’50s rock-and-roll roots into a racier sound and singular, sometimes jokey style—peppered with dashes of country and R&B.
This collection traces Edmunds’s musical progression from the upbeat rhythms of his early work, including his 1970 Top 10 hit, “I Hear You Knocking,” through 1983’s high-tech “Slipping Away.” Horns add a soulful-ness to later numbers such as 1990’s “Closer to the Flame. Though his best-known recordings are covers, Edmunds never sounds like anyone else. His blistering guitar and pungent vocals infuse Springsteen’s “From Small Things, Big Things Come” with style and kick, while his acoustic guitar makes Elvis Costello’s driving “Girls Talk” bounce and jangle. (Rhino)