THE MINNEAPOLIS "wave town" scene swirling around Prince is busier than ever. Prince has contributed new songs to albums by Andre Cymone (his former bassist), Sheila E (the opening act on his sold-out tour last year) and the Family.
The Family is built around singer Jerome Benton, drummer Jellybean Johnson and keyboardist Paul Peterson -- formerly members of the Time, which Prince put together. The Time has also fragmented in other directions, with lead singer Morris Day and guitarist Jesse Johnson each going solo.
Here's a sampling of recent albums by Princelings.
ALEXANDER O'NEAL -- "Alexander O'Neal" (Tabu FZ 39331). This debut album by the Time's original, pre-studio lead singer is closer to the mainstream romantic soul of Jeffrey Osborne and Luther Vandross than to the familiar Prince sound. The songs (by Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Monte Moir) and O'Neal's vocals are pleasurable even if not surprising in any way. The 10-minute version of "Innocent" is the one example of Minneapolis funk-rock; "What's Missing" and "Do You Wanna Like I Do" are both persuasive, old- fashioned lover's pleas. O'Neal appears at Blues Alley through Saturday.
SHEILA E -- "Romance 1600" (Paisley Park/Warner Bros. 25317-1). This California percussionist fills her songs with driving Latin- rock cross-rhythms, appealing pop melodies and a sly eroticism. Unfortunately, this fantasy-filled follow-up lacks the down-to-earth directness of last year's excellent debut, "The Glamorous Life." Still, the new album has its pleasures: the dense rhythm of "Sister Fate" (which denies the romantic rumors about Sheila and Prince), the psychedelic harmonies of "Dear Michelangelo," and Sheila's heated duet with Prince on his "Love Bizarre."
ANDRE CYMONE -- "AC" (Columbia FC 40037). Cymone can craft a very funky dance track. He arranges electric drum gunshots, buzzing synths and wah-wah rhythm guitar into compellingly syncopated patterns. Unfortunately, he seems incapable of fitting a credible vocal or appealing melody on top of them. Cymone, who wrote all but one of the eight songs -- the exception being the disappointing Prince tune, "The Dance Electric" -- and who handled all the vocals and instruments himself, is clearly overreaching.
THE FAMILY -- "The Family" (Paisley Park/ Warner Bros. 25322-1). This may be the best album to come out of Minneapolis this year. The purring vocals by Paul Peterson and Susannah Melvoin (Wendy's sister), Peterson's circus organ keyboards and jazz pianist Clare Fisher's string arrangements combine for an intoxicating reverie of sex and romance. Blaring R&B saxophone by Eric and aggressive funk drumming by Jellybean Johnson provide the needed counterbalance. The band squeezes the heartbreak blues out of Bobby Z's "River Run Dry" and Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" (his best song this year). It also steams up the studio with the rich harmonies of two original seduction tunes, "Desire" and "The Screams of Passion."