Big Mountain (Giant 24563)
It's not hard to understand why America took an instant liking to Big Mountain's version of "Baby, I Love Your Way." Not only is lead singer Quino's lithe tenor perfectly suited to the song's lilting melody, but there's a certain campy kick to hearing an old Peter Frampton hit remade as a reggae number. Unfortunately, that sort of trick works only once an album, and anyone expecting more of the same from "Unity" will be sorely disappointed. Although Quino's smooth singing is easy enough on the ear, his Bob Marley Lite approach makes the album more soothing than exciting, so that apart from the dancehall-tinged "Sweet Sensual Love," most of the songs here leave no impression whatsoever on the listener.
1-800 NEW FUNK
Various Artists (NPG/Bellmark 71006)
When Warner Bros. announced it was pulling the plug on Paisley Park Records, it looked like the end of the road for many of the acts that had been signed by the Artist Formerly Known As Prince. A.F.K.A.P. doesn't give up quite that easily, though, and has since tried to regain lost ground by releasing a sampler drawn from the old Paisley Park roster. Dubbed "1-800 NEW FUNK," the album boasts 12 tracks by such diverse talents as George Clinton, Mavis Staples, Nona Gaye (Marvin's daughter) and Mayte (A.F.K.A.P.'s belly dancer). While the overall content is a little too uneven to leave you thinking Warner Bros. made a big mistake, the strongest songs -- Clinton's "Hollywood," Staples' "You Will Be Moved" and Gaye's duet with A.F.K.A.P., "Love Sign" -- certainly deserve a better shot than they were originally given.
Tony Bennett (Columbia 66214)
MTV may not be known for its educational content, but it would be hard to top the singing lesson Tony Bennett offers in the course of "MTV Unplugged." It isn't simply that the 68-year-old crooner is in fine voice throughout, sailing blithely through the likes of "Speak Low" and "Steppin' Out With My Baby"; what really makes this set worth hearing is the way Bennett breathes new life into old material, from such jazzy chestnuts as "Body and Soul" to such familiar favorites as "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Best of all, Bennett brings on a couple of very capable guests -- the earnest and enthusiastic Elvis Costello and the supremely talented k. d. lang -- to ensure that his example does not go unheeded.