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Picks and Pans Review: Music Through Heartsongs

updated 05/05/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/05/2003 01:00AM

Billy Gilman (Epic Nashville)

On his latest, country singer Billy Gilman, 14, teams up with another precocious teenage boy, 13-year-old muscular dystrophy patient Mattie J.T. Stepanek, who has appeared on Oprah with his popular Heartsongs poetry books. Unfortunately it would take a more sophisticated singer than Gilman to translate 12 of Stepanek's doggedly hopeful poems into pop music. Stepanek's poems, which he began writing at 3, are a tribute to his courage and determination. As lyrics, though, they often sound pedantic and prosaic ("Every day in some way, we must always remember to play," on "About Things That Matter"). At least "The Gift of Color," with its Caribbean-tinged music, almost makes the usually stiff Gilman sound funky. Most of the time, though, Gilman sounds subdued and inexpressive, especially contrasted with Stepanek, who animatedly recites some of his lines himself.

BOTTOM LINE: An adolescent effort

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