JONATHAN BUTLER ``Jonathan Butler'' (RCA 10321-1-J) - South African-born guitarist/singer Butler's second release is a double album, his first collection of mostly vocals. He's almost a carbon copy of George Benson, with a nod to Stevie Wonder. His style comes out most strongly on his South African-flavored instrumentals. MOTLEY CRUE ``Girls Girls Girls'' (Elektra 9 60725-1) - Motley Crue is back after a two-year absence from recording, their bad-boy image intact. This album signals at least a temporary return to heavy metal basics, after the more theatrical ``Theatre of Pain.'' Here the group sounds strong and polished. Take note: bassist Nikki Sixx's lyrics are peppered with sex and violence.
DIANA ROSS ``Red Hot Rhythm & Blues'' (RCA 6388-1-R) - The title doesn't really give the true sense of Diana Ross's latest, which is cool rather than hot, with only a mild suggestion of rhythm & blues. It's Ross's sweetness that comes through on most of the smoothly produced selections, especially the haunting ballad ``Summertime'' (not Gershwin's), and the swingy ``Selfish One.'' Except for those and ``Cross My Heart,'' most of the tunes are forgettable.
ALEX de GRASSI ``Altiplano'' (RCA Novus 3016-1-N, CD 30162-N) - Guitarist de Grassi is a practitioner of New Age music, which really means he's uncategorizable. His playing is folky, classical, sometimes a little jazzy, and invariably pretty. Backup on the album includes synthesizers, bass, drums, voice, and various exotic percussion instruments. ``Altiplano'' is listenable, unchallenging, restful.
RANDY TRAVIS ``Always & Forever'' (Warner Bros. 25568-1) - Country's most popular singer is a low-key kind of guy, with an agreeable, kindly voice. Travis is another one of the back-to-basics country singers, with unobtrusive backup. He sings about home, family, the ins and outs of love - the usual heartland fare.
DUKE ELLINGTON ORCHESTRA ``Digital Duke'' (GRP GR-1038, CD GRD 9548) - Mercer Ellington presides over a new incarnation of the Ellington band that includes members of the current band, Ellington alumni, and special guests. It's an excellent rendering of some the Duke's best-known standards with new life breathed into them, especially by Norris Turney (``Prelude to a Kiss''), Branford Marsalis (``Cottontail''), and Eddie Daniels (``Mood Indigo'').
HENRY THREADGILL SEXTETT ``You Know the Number'' (RCA Novus 3013-1-N, CD 3013-2-N) - Saxophonist Threadgill comes out of the Chicago avant-garde movement of the '60s, and this latest effort has that same blues-rooted, freewheeling feeling. Much of the album is reminiscent of Charles Mingus's work, with its mercurial rhythms and madcap collective improvisation. But the real stars of the album are Threadgill's catchy compositions.