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Published: Saturday, 7/19/2008

Sounds: Randy Travis goes back to country

Randy Travis plans to make gospel and country albums. Randy Travis plans to make gospel and country albums.
JIM HAGANS / AP Enlarge

Travis' deep, resonant baritone seems to come from the floor below, and on this new release it's as mellow and smooth as ever. In his first country album in eight years, Travis returns to his roots - traditional country, mostly ballads, with heartfelt delivery and messages.

So far this century, he has concentrated on gospel albums, very successfully, too, picking up several Grammys and assorted awards for them. He now plans to alternate country and gospel releases. The 11 songs here are hard-core country, yet there's still a tinge of gospel in many of them.

Since his multi-platinum smash debut in 1986, "Storms of Life," Travis has etched his memorable, distinctive voice into the minds of country fans worldwide. Besides recording a large repertoire of hits that have become country anthems, he has appeared in many films and television shows. Music lovers can be grateful that he hasn't forsaken his main job.

- KEN ROSENBAUM

The world weighs heavy on Beck's narrow shoulders.

Ice caps are melting, he's feeling uptight, and he's lost. Or so he says on his new disc "Modern Guilt," an angst-ridden, 33-minute trip through the formerly fun singer/songwriter's tortured soul.

With Danger Mouse providing the beats and production help, the disc relies on Beck's penchant for '60s-era pop touches blended with contemporary noise. Beats bounce along in a fuzzy mishmash of radio-friendly melodies and strange, melancholy modernism.

The result is interesting, for sure, but not necessarily worth multiple listens. It'd be nice if the guy would loosen up a little, even though it's easy to feel guilty expecting him to return to the absurdist romps featured on his earlier work.

But it's also difficult not to hear "Modern Guilt" as a half-hour-long buzz kill.

- ROD LOCKWOOD

Eight-time Academy Award-nominated composer Thomas Newman has written an imaginative score for a movie soundtrack that - get this - blends elements of the 1969 musical Hello, Dolly! with science fiction.

The disc is further enhanced by an archived song by Louis Armstrong while closing with an uplifting new piece, "Down to Earth," which features a nifty collaboration between Newman and Peter Gabriel.

At nearly 80 minutes, it's long. A lot of the time is spent meandering through Newman's mostly orchestrated score, which has both a serious side and some moments of whimsy. Sure, it drags in parts, but it takes the listener on a cleverly cosmic journey with its boldness and finesse without anything too bizarre or off-kilter.

It's Newman's foray into the science fiction genre and, even with the need for a little tighter editing, he leaves his own mark while avoiding musical cliches or excessive sentimentality.

- TOM HENRY



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