Forbert usually takes a couple of years between albums. This one, he notes proudly in the press material, was completed in half that time. Next time Forbert considers putting out a rush job, he should follow the advice he issued on his splendid 1990 disc The American in Me: "Baby Don't."

-- Steven Almond

CeCe Peniston
I'm Movin' On
(A&M)

My love affair with CeCe Peniston began the first time I heard the house anthem "We Got a Love Thang." It was clear that this former Miss Arizona was no producer's plaything getting by on beauty. She possessed the mind and outlook of a grown woman and didn't need anyone's help to get her point across, thankyouverymuch. Her unmistakable cold-shiver voice, soaked in praisehouse funk, shamed all would-be dance divas the world over. Both her debut and successive albums avoided formula and went on to enjoy tremendous success with a mixed audience of club, R&B, and adult listeners.

I am truly disappointed, then, by Peniston's latest release I'm Movin' On. It's obvious that the plan here was to ditch the dance diva image and recast her as an R&B siren. Her signature fiery, gospel magic displayed on past highlights such as "Searchin'," "Finally," and "I'm Not Over You" is nowhere to be found. And while long-time collaborator Steve Hurley contributes a couple of tunes, sound-alike producers have the day here, and they crawl through a series of midtempo, boring grooves, best defined by "Looking for a Love That's Real" and the title track.

Sadly, this stuff is so weak lyric-wise I don't think any amount of house remixing will help. Imagine you're at the Lincoln Memorial for Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech but instead all he does is recite the alphabet. That's the effect of I'm Movin' On. Even a hack like Mariah Carey couldn't make hits out of these songs. A wiser and far more satisfying purchase for Peniston fans would be the Sisters of Glory's Good News in Hard Times, an overlooked 1995 gospel compilation on which sister CeCe bares her sanctified soul.

-- Jesse Ballinger

Suzanne Vega
Nine Objects of Desire
(A&M)

Over the course of five albums, Suzanne Vega has moved from edgy neo-folk aesthete to techno-flavored experimenter to her present incarnation as a smoky, sensuous chanteuse. In exploring this new image, she has created Nine Objects of Desire, a twelve-song paean to passionate desire composed of lush yet spacious music and sadly obvious lyrics.

What a loss.
Vega has distinguished herself in the past with brilliantly disguised imagery, ghostly snapshots that beg for our exploration. Her heroes and villains have always been shadowy figures, hiding behind curtains or sliding between the many layers of her metaphors. Their half-seen visages challenged us to look behind those curtains or pierce the layers so that we could make her images our own.

On Nine Objects, we're reduced to voyeurism. Whether she's recounting her husband's paranormal experience in their hotel room ("Honeymoon Suite") or an unrelieved sexual tension ("Stockings"), Vega spells it all out for us. Even when she sings of a specter of death on "Thin Man," she is visited by him in a cliched immediacy, intoning, "His hand is on my back when I step from the sidewalk/Or when I'm walking down these darkened halls." Where are the chicken parts made human from Solitude Standing's "Ironbound/ Fancy Poultry" ("Fancy poultry/Parts sold here/Breasts and thighs and hearts/Backs are cheap/And wings are nearly/Free"), or the fevered, sanguine half-plea of 99.9F's "Blood Makes Noise ("And I'd like to give the information/You're asking for/But blood makes noise")?

Maybe her recent marriage to producer Mitchell Froom (who was responsible for both her last album, the innovative 99.9F, and this new one), or the birth of their child, to whom she pays tribute in the percussion-driven opening track "Birth-day (love made real)," has created a contentment that robs us of her halting insights. But whatever it is, the content of her songs has suffered.

Fortunately, the album is almost redeemed by the strongest singing of her career and a beautiful mixture of techno-sonics turned warm and languid. But ultimately, it isn't enough. After sharing only glimpses of herself for four albums, Vega has chosen to open up, and leaves us wondering if we care.

-- Brian E. Rochlin

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