DENISE LASALLE and Betty Wright are two of the grittiest (and most underrated) soul singers alive, but their new albums aren't in the same league. LaSalle's "Still Trapped" is loose, raunchy and alive, while Wright's "Passion and ComPassion" is polished and almost polite by comparison.
Released by Malaco, the Jackson, Miss., record label that has helped revive a lot of faltering R&B careers over the years, "Still Trapped" has the kind of earthy, off-the-cuff appeal that's well suited to LaSalle's sassy delivery. That much is clear on the opening track, "Wet March," when she tells some poor soul that his "love is like trying to start a fire with a wet match," and becomes even more apparent later when she advises a friend to "Drop that zero, get yourself a hero" or cuts loose on the hipshaking finale "Wild Thang (All Night Long)."
Production-wise, the horns occasionally sound anemic and not all of the tunes are worthy of LaSalle's talent, but "Still Trapped" is still pretty potent stuff no matter where stylus (or laser) lands.
By contrast, Wright, long the queen of Miami soul, takes a sultry, radio-friendly tack on "Passion and ComPassion." A cooing vocal chorus followed by a sinuous sax on the opening track, "Help Is on the Way," is typical of the album's fashionably understated approach to ballads a` la Anita Baker et al. Now and then Wright's magnificent voice moves from a lusty alto to a stirring soprano, but it's a shame that her own songs aren't nearly as distinctive or as moving. Even so, despite similarly lightweight lyrics and some tedious fades, there's no mistaking her vocal power and range on the album's funk and rap tracks, "Nighttime Can Catch Ya," "Get Biz-E" and "Got My Life Back." -- Mike Joyce
DENISE LASALLE --
"Still Trapped" (Malaco).
BETTY WRIGHT --
"Passion And ComPassion" (Ms. B Records). Appearing together Friday with Little Milton and Lattimore at DAR Constitution Hall.