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** 1/2 GEORGE STRAIT, "George Strait," MCA Nashville

September 17, 2000|RANDY LEWIS

The first thing you notice about the Texas country kingpin's new album is the title: This is the first of his 27 albums simply bearing his name.

The implication is that the often enigmatic man behind that familiar strong, clear voice emerges at long last.

Well, yes and no.

Strait devotees will immediately notice that his delivery is more relaxed and natural--not that he's ever sounded particularly affected. But instead of sounding as if he's singing songs, now he's communicating feelings, which hasn't been his forte in the past.

Instead of emphasizing the geography-hopping novelty appeal of a song like "If You Can Do Anything Else," he locates the heart of the lyric and stresses the noble sacrifice a guy offers the object of his desire before they proceed further down the road of love.

That doesn't happen in all 10 songs, several of which are featherweight toe-tappers. It does, however, happen enough to make it clear Strait has turned a significant corner and should have more consistently rewarding albums ahead.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are due in stores Tuesday.

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