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RECORD RACK

March 06, 1994|RICHARD CROMELIN

VARIOUS ARTISTS

"Rhythm, Country & Blues"

MCA

* * 1/2

It's tempting to view R&B and country music as parallel rails forming the tracks of American popular music, as equal but separate traditions whose dichotomies--hard-bitten vs sentimental, release vs. restraint, horns vs. pedal steel--are irreconcilable.

Of course the stereotypes don't hold. The two genres have always intermingled, so the conceit of cultural breakthrough that accompanies "Rhythm, Country & Blues"--an album bringing together singers and songs from both fields--rings a little hollow. But if you're interested in the human rather than the historical scale, it has its moments.

Al Green and Lyle Lovett's "Funny How Time Slips Away" is an inspired meeting of the most elastic of voices and the most tightly wound. Vince Gill and Gladys Knight make a class pairing, and Tanya Tucker and Little Richard is a match made in camp heaven.

Less successful are Natalie Cole and Reba McEntire (both too close to the pop center to generate much tension), Trisha Yearwood and Aaron Neville (warblemania) and Marty Stuart and the Staple Singers (a more than numerical mismatch).

The sleepers? Easily Sam Moore and the late Conway Twitty, who work their way deep into the sweet melancholy of "Rainy Night in Georgia" before engaging in some loose and warm banter that melts all boundaries and backgrounds into a pure distillation of the human spirit.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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