WHITNEY HOUSTON ``Whitney'' (Arista ARCD 8405) - Whitney Houston has worked hard and has improved since her debut album - her singing is more secure - but the material could be better. Best are the ballads, especially ``Love Will Save the Day,'' and a duet with her mother, Cissy Houston, ``Where Do Broken Hearts Go?'' But there isn't an upbeat song on the album that can top or even match her hit ``How Will I Know?'' LITTLE STEVEN ``Freedom - No Compromise'' (Manhattan Records ST-53048) - More heavily political music from the former ``Miami Steve,'' guitarist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. Solid, rocking sounds with full, expansive backup by the Disciples of Soul, and guest spots by Springsteen and Ruben Blades. Best cut: ``Pretoria,'' an affecting portrayal with a beautiful chorus in Zulu.

TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS ``Let Me Up (I've Had Enough)'' (MCA-5836) - Petty's tour with Bob Dylan can't be discounted in the Heartbreakers' newfound inspiration on this back-to-rock-basics album. This was an informal project - no producer, just the guys jamming in the studio. The result is spontaneous and infectious, even though many of the songs are about confused and angry relationships.

THE DESERT ROSE BAND ``The Desert Rose Band'' (MCA-5991) - California country-western sounds from this six-piece band. Bassist Chris Hillman was a founding member of the Byrds, and this album includes ``Time Between,'' first recorded by the Byrds 21 years ago. These are mostly love songs, sweetly sung by Hillman and harmonized by other members of the band.

BETTY BUCKLEY ``Betty Buckley'' (Rizzoli Records 1003) - The versatile singer/actress (``Eight Is Enough,'' ``Cats'') transcends the Broadway belt, cabaret, and theatrical presentation on this outstanding first album. Although she embraces all of these, the clincher is her musicality and originality. Miss Buckley is a talented songwriter and insightful lyricist - she wrote or co-wrote 7 out of the 11 songs on the album.

MAX ROACH DOUBLE QUARTET ``Bright Moments'' (Soul Note SN 1159) - Drummer Max Roach moves comfortably along the cutting edge in jazz with his second double quartet album, featuring his jazz quartet with the Uptown String Quartet. Roach proves that strings don't have to be syrupy in jazz in this varied collection of jazz tunes and improvisations. Underpinning it all is Roach's superb drumming.

JACK DEJOHNETTE'S SPECIAL EDITION ``Irresistible Forces'' (MCA 5992) - The talented jazz drummer/composer presents yet another incarnation of his band Special Edition on this fifth album. This time DeJohnette has reeds and guitar in the forefront, and guest artist percussionist/vocalist Nana Vasconcelos adds a Brazilian touch. The music is a bit more accessible than some of the band's earlier efforts.

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