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DANCE COLLECTION GROOVES; GOSPEL RECORDINGS MOVE

"Red Hot + Dance" is a beat-propelled all-star collection for a cause - sort of a scaled-back '90s successor to the USO canteens of the '40s or the superstar benefit concerts of the '80s. This time around Madonna, Seal, EMF and especially George Michael, among others, have donated songs to lend a hand to Red Hot + Blue, an organization raising funds to help AIDS-battling charities.

Three fresh songs by Michael lead off this new set: the hit "Too Funky," "Do You Really Want to Know" and "Happy." Initially catchy and filled out with jivey horns, samples, an omnipresent beat and George's whispery-sexy vocals, they establish the album's techno-dance atmosphere.Madonna chips in with a remix of the "Ghost"-ish "Supernatural," the hip and suggestive B-side of "Cherish" in Britain. Then come a passel of other remixes, handled by some of today's top producers. The songs include Seal's hypnotic "Crazy"; "Gypsy Woman," Crystal Waters' disco ode to the homeless; Lisa Stanfield's soulful "Change"; and Brian Eno's clangorously reworked industrial version of EMF's "Unbelievable," which could be aptly retitled "Unrecognizable." And let's not forget the mild house rehab of Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falet-tinme Be Mice Elf Agin)." The added jingles, jangles and bottom make this granddaddy single (a 1970 No. 1) seem right at home.

"Red Hot + Dance" isn't as arty-ambitious as 1990's "Red Hot + Blue" music and video project, which offered reinterpretations of Cole Porter songs by the likes of Bono and Sinead O'Connor. Melody and lyrics are secondary to the rhythm and beat - but somehow, to its credit, this new variety show seems more likely to power a party than its clever predecessor.

- Ray Boren

JOHNNY CASH; "The Gospel Collection" (Columbia). * * * *

Honest. Simple. Straightforward. Tender. Solid. Soothing. "The Gospel Collection" is all of the above.

One of the main reasons Johnny Cash went to the Columbia label in 1958 was that Sun didn't let him record gospel songs. Between 1958 and 1961, Cash put out two albums of hymns for Columbia, permitting him to fulfill a pledge to "tithe" his music. "The Gospel Collection" is a 24-track compilation of those hymns, digitally remastered using state-of-the-art equipment to provide optimum quality.

These hymns are written for the humble and pentitent, the poor and downtrodden. Many reflect on departing this life, using metaphors like crossing Jordan, meeting on the beautiful shores or crossing the river.

Included in the collection are five songs written or co-written by Cash: "It Was Jesus," "Are All the Children In," "Lead Me Father," "I Call Him" and "He'll Be a Friend."

While it is hard to pick a favorite, tunes like "Snow in His Hair," "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning" and his autobiographical narrative, "Are All the Children In," are especially gripping.

- Steve Warren

RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.