Clapton's 'Nights' captures spirited live performances


Eric Clapton (Reprise 26420) Given the number of concert recordings already in his catalog, news that Eric Clapton has released another live album is hardly going to stop the presses. "24 Nights" isn't just another live album, though. Drawing from 24 concerts the guitarist gave at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1990 and '91, this double-length collection finds him working with a variety of bands, including the nine-piece group he toured with last year, an all-star blues group, even a symphony orchestra. And even though the hit-heavy song selection offers few surprises, the playing can be startling, whether through sparks thrown by guests like Buddy Guy (on "Have You Ever Loved a Woman") or spirited performances by Clapton himself (on "Sunshine of Your Love" and "Pretending" in particular).



Reba McEntire (MCA 10400)


Cross-over recordings always involve compromise, and that usually means that the artist's usual sound is diluted to attract a larger audience. That's not the case with Reba McEntire's "For My Broken Heart," however. As much as the album downplays its country side, emphasizing synthesizers over steel guitar and fiddle, the sound McEntire ends up with is no sellout. Instead of forsaking her roots, she's simply updated the country-pop approach of Ann Murray or Kenny Rogers, meaning that no matter how slick the album might sound, there's no mistaking the down-home sentiments of "Bobby" and "The Greatest Man I Never Knew."


Digital Underground (Tommy Boy 1045)

It used to be that James Brown was the most sampled man in rap, but these days, that distinction belongs with George Clinton and his P-Funk bandmates. Just look at Digital Underground's new album, "Sons of the P," which even acknowledges its debt to Clinton in the title. Not that the D.U. sound is all samples; in fact, part of what the group takes from Clinton is a fondness for loose, jam-like grooves and free-spirited instrumental interplay. But when the group does sample, it always expands upon the sound bite, using "One Nation Under a Groove" to spin off a P-Funk tribute in "Tales of the Funky," or pulling a whole new dimension of melody from "(Not Just) Knee Deep" in "Kiss You Back."


Fourplay (Warner Bros. 26656)

Pop jazz can produce some sweet sounds, but all-too-often the music offers nothing but empty calories. Fortunately, that's not entirely the case with Fourplay, the new quartet featuring keyboardist Bob James, guitarist Lee Ritenour, bassist Nathan East and drummer Harvey Mason. Although the group's debut, "Fourplay," can seem vapid at times -- not even guest vocalist El DeBarge can coax life out of the likes of "After the Dance" -- its best moments, like the spirited "Bali Run," boast the sort of interplay that made Weather Report so rewarding.