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Published: Saturday, 9/22/2007

Sounds: Breezy new songs from the Benjy Davis Project

Benjy Davis is not afraid to say "I love you."

Literally, and that's what makes his band's fourth release such a major step forward from its middling predecessor "The Angie House" to something with substance, smart pop chops, and a winningly naked honesty.

Working piano and guitar-based pop turf already trod by everyone from the Dave Matthews Band to the Ben Folds Five, the Louisiana-based Project also echoes Elton John's classic early works like "Honky Chateau" and "Tumbleweed Connection."

Davis is a romantic at heart and a strong writer who knows how to load his songs with details that range from conversational snippets to trenchant observations about the way couples relate. Mixed with the sophisticated arrangements that feature complex harmonies and bouncy melodies, "Dust" builds into a strong release that would sound just right on the radio.

Songs like "The Rain," "I Love You," and the ballad "Good Enough" - the latter a perfectly sketched vision of marital happiness - show off an unabashed sensuality and fearlessness that is refreshing. Pulling off lines like "I love you deeper than I can swim" takes commitment and would sound strange in another artist's hands.

On "Dust" it works just right.

- ROD LOCKWOOD

"Never Wanted Nothing More," the opening track and first single from this 11-song package, rode for five consecutive weeks at the top of the country airplay charts. Among the other 10 numbers are a few that could have just as good a ride if cut loose as singles.

There are no weaknesses in Chesney's thirteenth album, and several tunes may be destined for a future as a country classic. A special highlight is "Shiftwork," a rollicking, uptempo duet with George Strait, featuring some unusual backbeats and a dash of island flavor from steel drums.

Chesney's trademark sound is heavy on electric guitar with straightforward lyrics that emphasize youthful exuberance, wishful longings, and an occasional look back at successes, failures, and regrets. It's the stuff that keeps country music so successful, and Chesney's warm twang rarely strays from familiar territory.

The instrumental backup work is sometimes fresh and innovative for country music, yet always perfectly mated to Chesney's deliveries.

- KEN ROSENBAUM

Victoria Hart is living a dream: She came out of nowhere as a singing waitress at a London restaurant to land a major recording contract. Discovered at the eatery the Naked Turtle by one of George Clooney's friends, she got her big break performing before Clooney, Brad Pitt, and other celebs at a Cannes fundraiser.

As unlikely as this all sounds for the American teen who was raised in England and France, Hart has some serious pipes. On her U.S. debut album, she mixes a sultry tease with endearing, young-womanish charm.

While her forte appears to be bold, brassy, sassy, and sweet love songs in a jazz-blues-swing-salsa format reminiscent of the 1940s, her talent goes well beyond her years and suggests we'll be hearing more from her. All songs are originals, with the exception of the Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon."

- TOM HENRY

Dance music fans know Jes as the voice of some of Tiesto's top tracks, but she proves here that she has chops as a songwriter, and can perform outside the trance genre by occasionally changing her sound and adding a rock vibe. Remixes will ad

d more lustre to several cuts, but this is a solid solo outing.

RICHARD PATON

Zen, maybe, but chilled definitely. The 13 tracks on this richly ambient CD set a mood but are way beyond aural wallpaper. There are tasteful melodies, and David isn't afraid to add understated beats to give some tracks a little more power.

R.P.



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