ALBUM REVIEW : 'Red Hot' Features a Celebrity Surprise

** "Red Hot and Blue." Featuring Lee Atwater, Isaac Hayes, B.B. King, Carla Thomas, others. Curb Records.

The most entertaining thing about this ensemble salute to spicy, Memphis-style '50s and '60s R & B is the way it lets you surprise your friends. Play a selection such as "Knock on Wood" or "Bad Boy" for someone without identifying the singer, then watch their eyes bulge when you reveal that it's the controversial national chairman of the Republican Party . . . Lee Atwater.

Singer-guitarist Atwater comes across surprisingly well at first, especially vocally. He's not any better than a singer in an average bar band, but he is more convincing than such other celebrity pop figures as, say, the Blues Brothers and Bruce Willis. But the novelty effect of his singing and guitar licks wears thin, and it's hard to imagine listening to this tribute to a great era in American music when the records that inspired this project are still readily available.

(Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five (a classic).)

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