IF SLY STONE had recorded in Memphis instead of San Francisco or if Jimi Hendrix had recorded in New Orleans instead of New York, the results might have sounded very much like Chris Thomas's "Cry of the Prophets." The son of Baton Rouge blues singer Tabby Thomas, Chris Thomas has fashioned a groundbreaking fusion of '60s Southern soul singing, '70s rock 'n' roll guitar and '80s funk rhythms. Thomas brings a lot more to the music than mere concept, though; he's got a big, soulful voice, a quick, lyrical touch on the guitar and a knack for catchy hooks that make melody and rhythm inseparable.
If this sounds like a more commercial version of Robert Cray's modernized blues, it's no accident, for Cray's producer, Bruce Bromberg, co-produced "Cry of the Prophets." "All Night Long" is a marvelous updating of Slim Harpo's "Shake Your Hips," turning it into a feverish call-and-response rocker, and "I'm Gonna Make It" sounds like an Otis Redding gospel-soul ballad with a vocal performance to justify the comparison. Thomas is not much of a lyricist, but his guitar work -- with its ever-shifting tones and harmonic detours -- tells the stories quite eloquently.
Thomas and his tight, punchy rock 'n' soul band will inevitably be compared to Living Colour, but Thomas takes his cue from the Beatles and Sly Stone rather than Aerosmith and Maze, and that makes all the difference. When Thomas gets hold of the glorious pop melody he wrote for the first single, "Wanna Die With a Smile on My Face," he delivers some of the year's most pleasurable music.
Jill Sobule's debut album, "Things Here Are Different," was produced by Todd Rundgren, but it's hard to understand what Rundgren heard in this artsy singer-songwriter from Denver. Her voice is pleasant but thin; her compositions are unimaginative variations on tired new-wave formulas, and her lyrics suffer from the preciousness of ivory-tower poetry. From the cool-jazz touches on "Too Cool to Fall in Love" to the chamber string quartet on two other songs, from the dominance of Sobule's classical guitar to the wispy arrangements, the aim was obviously sensitive introspection but the effect was sleep-inducing new-age mood music.