Anne Murray has moved from middle-of- the-road country to equally centrist pop; Marshall Chapman has moved from rough- and-tumble rock to subdued folk-rock with strong r'n'b roots. Both have new albums out.
Murray's "The Hottest Night of the Year" is everything we've come to expect from the award-laden Canadian songbird: It's thoroughly professional in its mixture of languid ballads and up-tempo pop tunes; Jim Ed Norman's production is sleek and smooth, though a bit clipped on the faster tunes; the singer's husky alto dominates the arrangements and is particularly effective on such deliberately underplayed ballads as "Easy Does It," "That'll Keep Me Dreamin' " and Bob McDill's elegiac "Somebody's Always Saying Goodbye."
But the album suffers from a familiar problem: Most of the material, coming from a dozen different writers, simply doesn't grab your attention. Too many lyrics are uninspired updates of Tin Pan Alley cliches: witness the molasses sweetness of the Bread-like "They Don't Call It Magic for Nothing" ("Hey, what good love can do / It's a supernatural something / They call it magic, I call it you").
And Murray doesn't come across well when she's hurried by a horn section ("Ain't No Way to Rise Above Fallin' in Love") or when she's mired in a turgid remake of Bruce Channel's 20-year-old rocker, "Hey Baby," done stiffly with dulled edges. The best cut is the anachronistic "Song for the Mira," a pretty, Lightfoot-ish folk melody set in a subtle pop context.
Murray's delivery is straightforward. Although her voice is surprisingly moving in its lower ranges, it seldom offers more than an easy listen.
Less frenetic than her past work, Marshall Chapman's "Take It on Home" requires a couple of listens before its charms become apparent. Except for Dylan's "To Be Alone With You" and a taut retelling of Willie Nelson's "Pick Up the Tempo," the tunes are all Chapman's.
She reveals herself as a fine craftsman, wedding straightforward and often witty lyrics ("Some drink because the Bible tells 'em no") to pulsing, mesmerizing melodies. "Bizzy Bizzy Bizzy" and "Take It Like a Man" both evolve out of classic rock riffs -- Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley filtered through Johnny Otis. The first is a compelling complaint that resolves itself in action, while the second is a tough-gal warning consistent with Chapman's image ("This is a love invitation / Do you think you can take it like a man") and enhanced by provocative organ and sax solos. Subtly underplayed but decidedly stylish blues and r'n'b elements crop up throughout this cleanly produced album.
"Island Song" is Jimmy Buffett without the smugness, sung with the suggestion of being talked; despite some scrappy guitar, "Booze in Your Blood" seems all posturing.
There are four really outstanding cuts: On "Midnight Chauffeur," which parodies autoerotic cliches, Chapman does a subtly funky "Fever-ish" Peggy Lee/Julie London number. "Guitar Song" is a cultural love song a la Guy Clark: hard-edged sentimentality coursing through a pretty country melody.
The two best cuts, however, are "The Girl Can't Stand to Lose" and "The Perfect Partner." On the first, the raw edge in Chapman's voice punches through a Jagger- does-country tune, sad yet resilient. Even better is "Perfect Partner," which has a memorable melody that insinuates itself into your mind. Both songs are mesmerizing, with the engaging lope Steve Stills brought to his best work with Manassas. Graced with Fred Williamson Jr.'s stinging guitar lines and Chapman's heartfelt vocals, "Take It on Home" is a sparkling, half- rough diamond. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUMS ANNE MURRAY, The Hottest Night of the Year (Capitol ST-1225). MARSHALL CHAPMAN, Take It on Home (Rounder 3069). THE SHOWS ANNE MURRAY, Friday at 8 at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. MARSHALL CHAPMAN, Friday at 8 at the Wax Museum, with B. Willie Smith.