For far too long, cool cats have saddled country music with a reputation as some sort of hillbilly wasteland. Sure, Nashville's hit-makers tend to flock to the usual suspects in the studio—you'd sometimes think Tony Brown and James Stroud, specialists in churning out sterile, homogenous material, were the only producers in town. But landmark albums like Emmylou Harris's Luxury Liner, Rosanne Cash's King's Record Shop and now Kathy Mattea's Love Travels prove that the genre can promote variety and rise above all that hackneyed lyin', cheatin', woman-chasin', honky-tonkin', whiskey-drinkin' stuff.
Mattea's 10th studio album avoids every one of those clichés. She maintains her impeccable taste in material, and her warm alto remains free of the twangy affectations that reinforce country's bad rep. Listen without prejudice to Mattea's gospel-tinged joy on "Sending Me Angels," her soulful slow burn on "Beautiful Fool" or the calypso swagger of "Patiently Waiting." If you're still thinking of country as strictly bumpkin music, then you're probably too hip for your own good. (Mercury)