BEYOND THE SEASON
Garth Brooks (Liberty 98742)
Given its late-summer release, Garth Brooks fans might want to take the title of his newest album, "Beyond the Season," a little more literally than usual. Why? Because the season Brooks has in mind is Christmas, and each of the 11 songs is focused on Dec. 25. To his credit, he treats each of them as country fare, meaning that there's a boisterous, honky-tonk beat behind the Santa-centered "The Old Man's Back in Town," "White Christmas" coasts in on a jazzy, western-swing arrangement, and "The Gift" is given a lovely Tex-Mex ballad treatment. But unless you're a dedicated Brooks-aholic, odds are that you're going to feel fairly silly listening to "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" or "Silent Night" this early in the season.
Eric Clapton (Reprise 45024)
Most "unplugged" albums treat their all-acoustic instrumentation as a gimmick, offering little more than unamplified versions of the performer's biggest hits. Eric Clapton's "Unplugged" is a horse of a different color, however, for not only is the bulk of the album given over to old blues tunes, but the few familiar numbers are given arrangements that verge on re-invention. "Layla," for example, is remade as a jazzy shuffle, while "Old Love" seems both darker and more resonant in its acoustic setting. And even though the most obvious pop hit is probably his wonderfully tender reading of "Tears in Heaven," there's no denying the appeal of oldies like Robert Johnson's "Walkin' Blues" or Jesse Fuller's "San Francisco Bay Blues."