NEW RELEASES FROM THE DESERT

Arizona's music scene is in an unusual state these days. Here in the Valley, hip-hop knuckleheads Phunk Junkeez and smooth R&B singer Malaika are blossoming into national acts. And speaking of Blossoms, the smashing success of Tempe's Gin Blossoms has grown to the point that divine intervention is the only plausible explanation. The band and its unstoppable album New Miserable Experience have to be on a mission from Gahd. When N.M.E. goes gold, which, according to A&M, could be as soon as next week, Arizona will have its first gold disc by homegrown talent in many years. If this latest batch of CDs and cassettes is any indication, there's a lot more talent waiting and working hard in the wings. Sonya Jason

Tigress
(Discovery)

"Warning: This album contains so much love and magic, it's contagious," saxophonist and former Phoenician Sonya Jason writes in the liner notes of her first national release. "Let the music wrap around you like a warm hug," she coos.

Thanks, Ms. Jason, but that hug feels a bit claustrophobic throughout much of Tigress. The doe-eyed mush of "Touch and Go" and "Easy Love" is undiluted sentimentality, showing that this tigress has earned her stripes in the school of vapidity that's mauling contemporary jazz. Too bad love and magic have to sound so cloying.

Jason has a strong and distinct style of alto-sax playing that needn't be wasted on pandering to the pup-jazz audience. Occasionally, she shows that she can do better than run with the lightweight pack. The title cut and "Exotica" reveal a blossoming tunesmith who needn't recycle the same old, directionless vamps. The enticing creativity that shines through the cracks of "Cartoon Blues" hints at her potential to blow simmering, rather than simpering, jazz. Better yet, her arranging and producing skills are impeccable. The presence of Latin studio percussionist Luis Conte and Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip also helps keep the project on its feet.

How unfortunate, though, that so talented a player would rather pull a larger paycheck from the love crowd than work in a more challenging, bluesy direction. Betcha she could move into the R&B terrain trailblazed by altoist Hank Crawford and put out some killer stuff.

Professional female musicians rightfully resent being typecast as snuggle queens. Yet a gooey disc like Tigress comes close to being an aural centerfold, flashing for the cash. Someday, Jason might want to take the advice of one of her own compositions and choose to "Just Take a Chance."--Dave McElfresh

A Family of Friends
Women's Music Sampler
(Tsunami)

Although this is music by and for lesbians, labels like "women's music" and its companion, "men's music," relegate discs like this to separate, and often too forgiving, musical standards. A comment like "It's good--for lesbian music" obscures what might simply be good music. A varied, at times brilliant, collection of music from gay women from across the nation, A Family of Friends proves that if the quality is there, music will transcend all labels. A Family of Friends opens with a "We Are the World"-style mass sing-along called "A Family of Friends." From there, the singer-songwriters dominate. But there are a few surprises along the way. Diane Lindsay, for example, assumes Bonnie Raitt's sound and attitude on her edgy, electric "All Over Me." The back-up vocals on "All Over Me" are handled by one of the L.A. studio scene's finest talents, longtime Raitt/Jackson Browne bandmate Rosemary Butler. Later in the disc, OneSpirts' world-beat instrumental "Happy Life" is a welcome change of pace. And June and Jean Millington's pop-reggae "Family (World of Love)" gets into a pleasing riddim. Only one cut, Alix Dobkin's "My Kind of Girl," sounds amateurish and out of place.

The stars here are the disc's two closing cuts. Venus Envy's "Myth in Genesis" is a bluesy, four-part-harmony bar ballad whose wonderfully silly delivery belies the lyric's serious intentions. Taking their cue from Texan Marcia Ball, Kentucky natives Yer Girlfriend close this album with their roots-rockin' "Lez-B-Bop."

Lyrically, this collection is predictable. Love songs dominate. Others go to great pains not to mince words. Tucsonan Jamie Anderson, the force behind this collection, contributes "At Karen's House," a tune about discovering her next-door neighbor is gay. Californian Pam Hall adds her sly, funny "Linda," a song extolling a "real womon's womon," who wears "cow-dyke" boots and a "Greta Garbo grin." Overall, a beautifully packaged, professional-sounding compilation that proves "women's music" isn't just for women anymore.--Robert Baird

Nowhere Dreamer
Lifetimes
(local CD)

It's clear from the packaging and sound quality that Nowhere Dreamer spent a fortune making this CD. Lifetimes looks and sounds like label product. This successful Valley act also has savvy to have a personal manager (a band member's mom), assistant manager and publicist.

Unfortunately, N.D. is also a band with a disease. Like the lung-shredding valley fever whose spores live in the soil here, "die-no rock complex" has reached epidemic proportions. Drifting aimlessly on the breeze, it's harmless until it finds a group of unsuspecting musicians on which to prey. Once inhaled, the effect is immediate. Guitarists begin to effect radio-ready guitar riffs. Vocalists begin to wail and writhe like Journey's Steve Perry and the whole band takes on a Top 40, pop-rock glaze.

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