Somewhere Down in Texas – George Strait
At 53, country’s most reluctant superstar can always lend gravity to even the weakest of songs. On Strait’s 33rd album, many of his songs are semi-autobiographical and ring with authenticity.

The first single, “You’ll Be There,” was the highest charting debut in Strait’s career. It’s a dynamic tune that talks of meeting a loved one in the afterlife. The track likely hits a nerve with the singer, who lost his daughter in a car wreck in 1986. The ballad “Good News, Bad News,” is a duet with Lee Ann Womack. With more than 60 million albums sold in 20 years, this disc should propel Gentleman George to the 70 million mark. A

Loco Motive – Cowboy Troy
Are you ready for Hick-Hop Muzik, where rap meets country? It’s country of a different color from Cowboy Troy, who first burst onto the stage with “Rollin'” from Big & Rich’s debut album and was a sensation performing with Tim McGraw. Now MuzikMafia godfathers Big & Rich launch the Warner Bros. debut of Cowboy Troy, the world’s only black country rapper.

Dallas native and University of Texas graduate Troy Coleman brings down-home humor to uptown rhyming, as fiddle, banjo and steel guitar punctuate the beat. “I Play Chicken with the Train” and “My Last Yeehaw,” both with Big & Rich, might generate some novelty airplay. The steel guitar blares on “If You Don’t Love Me,” a very nice rapping ballad, if there is such a thing. B+

Blame the Vain – Dwight Yoakam
“There’s a lot of reckless joy on this album,” says Dwight Yoakam. “We never left a session that wasn’t flat-out fun.” The Kentucky native has balanced mainstream commercial success with artistic, alt-country credibility, while somehow managing to embody both the music’s most traditional and its most progressive impulses.

This is Yoakam’s first self-produced effort since splitting with producer and longtime bandleader Pete Anderson. “International Heartache,” plus the tear-in-your-beer balladry of “Lucky That Way” and “Does it Show,” should satisfy those who take their honky-tonk straight. Dwight also pays homage to his musical heroes Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley on this comeback CD. A-

Erika Jo – Erika Jo
In the course of just a few weeks this spring, Erika Jo put the finishing touches on her debut album, filmed her first video, released her first single, made her Grand Ole Opry debut and sat for dozens of interviews, including the Today show, following her April 26 win of the USA Network’s Nashville Star talent-competition series. She also managed to squeeze in her senior prom and her high school graduation at Wilson County (Tenn.) High.

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Her debut single, the spunky, country-rockin’ “I Break Things,” smokes! She may only be 18, but she wants people to know she got her start long before her face started popping up weekly on television. “I didn’t just wake up a year ago and say, ‘Hey! I want to sing!’ It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s been a big focus in my life, even as a child. And I’ve been working at it for a number of years,” she says. E.J.’s work has paid off, and you can hear for yourself on songs such as “They Say Love is Blind,” “Strong Tonight” and a remake of “I’m Not Lisa.” B

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