Garth Brooks, Double Live (Capitol 4-97424-20). It's official -- there are no Garth-free zones left in America. Thanks to his concert tours, his TV specials and this hot-selling new concert release, Garth is everywhere. Though I think he's a bit overrated and overworshiped these days, make no mistake -- this two-disc set is superb. With more than 100 minutes of music (at a listener-friendly single-disc price), it does a wonderful job of capturing the excitement of a Brooks concert. I like this recording better than the Buffalo concert I went to in September, because you don't have to listen to Garth cheerleading and yapping with the audience for five to 10 minutes between songs. High-energy numbers like "Rodeo" and "Standing Outside the Fire" sound better here than the studio recordings, and there's even a rowdy version of an Aerosmith song, "Fever." And it's truly amazing to hear Garth let the audience take over the entire vocal on "Unanswered Prayers." Rating: ****
-- Dan Herbeck
Take 6, So Cool (Warner/Reprise 9-46795). Vox P (Town Crier TCD-523). "So Cool" is the irresistible 10th anniversary celebration of Take 6, the remarkable, sui generis a cappella vocal group whose history goes back to a dormitory quartet convened at Alabama's Oakwood College by Buffalo native (Music Hall of Fame, take note) Claude McKnight in 1980. There's no one else quite like them, what with jazz, gospel, doo-wop and Lord-knows-what-else throbbing through their music, along with a sense of swing that could spread get-down dance fever at a conference of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There's even a South African Chorale on "So Cool." Gospel fervor may be what keeps the sextet together, but the ability to make such marvelous, ecstatic, inimitable music probably doesn't hurt. May they go on 10 more years at least. Rating: **** 1/2 . Vox P is a young Danish a cappella quartet whose debut comes with the approval of scat empress Annie Ross, no less, of Lambert, Hendrix and Ross, and who sing tunes like "The Ability to Swing" which, in their Hi-Los way, is the one thing they don't really have. They're pleasant, but they ought to listen to Take 6's creamy "So Cool" for a few weeks to get an idea how it's done. Rating: ** 1/2
-- Jeff Simon
Art Ensemble of Chicago, Coming Home Jamaica (Atlantic 83149-2). Free jazz you can dance to -- about as ear-friendly as the great, world-bewitching group has ever been. Joseph Jarman's departure five years ago ended, at 23, the extraordinary number of years the great Chicago quintet had been together performing "great black music, ancient to the future." If this happy, beautiful December 1995 and January 1996 recording in Jamaica is any indication, Jarman's departure has taken a bit of avant-garde theatrical and ritual edge from the group and left them more willing than ever to revel in reggae, roil away in R & B and sentimentalize beautifully in tiny sensitive ballads (hear "Villa Tiamo") and generally make music as accessible as they ever have. In other words, gutbucket jazz Dadaist Lester Bowie and the great bassist Malachi Favors seem to have taken over this infectious sonic vacation of a disc. Rating: *** 1/2
-- Jeff Simon
(1) Lately, Divine (Pendulum). (2) Doo Wop (That Thing), Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse). (3) Nobody's Supposed to Be Here, Deborah Cox (Arista). (4) Because of You, 98 Degrees (Motown). (5) The First Night, Monica (Arista).
(1) Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, Alanis Morissette (Maverick). (2) R., R. Kelly (Jive). (3) These Are Special Times, Celine Dion (550 Music). (4) Vol. 2 . . . Hard Knock Life, Jay-Z (Roc-A-Fella). (5) The Best of 1980-1990/The B-Sides, U2 (Island). Soundtrack: "Belly" (Def Jam).
(1) Doo Wop (That Thing), Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse). (2) Pushin' Weight, Ice Cube, featuring Short Khop (Lench Mob). (3) Ghetto Cowboy, Mo Thugs Family (Mo Thugs). (4) SuperThug, Noreaga (Penalty). (5) Whatcha Wanna Do?, Mia X, featuring Charlie Wilson (No Limit).