DON'T LOOK now, but the Randy Travis clones are coming. They'll be wearing cowboy hats and string ties, and they'll be singing about their women problems in deep, hearty tenors.
Travis is the best-selling artist in country music right now, and Nashville is already overrun with male honky-tonk singers imitating Travis's imitation of George Strait. Clint Black is the best of these clones, but other worthy candidates include Ricky Van Shelton, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt and Doug Stone. Though the lack of originality is disappointing, this neo-honky-tonk movement is a decided improvement over the days when Nashville was full of Conway Twitty and Barbara Mandrell clones.
Stone's self-titled debut album is typical of the movement. Stone, a Georgia native, has a strong, expressive voice that producer Doug Johnson has surrounded with traditional honky-tonk and Western swing touches played by such pros as fiddler Mark O'Connor and steel guitarist Paul Franklin. The album's first single, "I'd Be Better Off (in a Pine Box)," is a melodramatic confession that the singer would rather die and face the devil than face his ex-lover with her new man, but Stone's sure grasp of dynamics makes it work better than it should.
As good as Stone's voice is, though, it's not special enough to beat Travis or Black at their own game, and his material isn't strong enough to separate him from the pack.
DOUG STONE --
"Doug Stone" (Epic). Appearing Friday at the Birchmere.