"New Old Songs," which appears on Neal McCoy's new album, "The Life of the Party," summarizes his philosophy. Over a finger-snapping, beach-music groove, McCoy asks "Mr. DJ" to play "something that sounds like along time ago," something by the Drifters, Martha Reeves or Otis Redding. McCoy owes his success to a big voice and the odd gambit of mixing old-school soul music and modern country-pop. His new album borrows its title from Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of My Tears" and its sound from those mid-'60s Johnny Rivers records that mixed Motown and folk-rock. Except for a Nat King Cole cover, all the songs on McCoy's eighth album are new,, but in trying to recapture a bygone era, they give us the style without substance. There's something strangely impersonal about songs such as "Girls of Summer," with its generic stereotypes in cut-offs and string bikinis rather than particular young women, or "Lipstick on the Radio," which waxes nostalgic for a vaguely defined 1962 song.
Keith Harling is much more of a country traditionalist. His debut album, "Write It in Stone," revives a song originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell and Keith Whitley and boasts songs co-written by Melba Montgomery and Bill Anderson. This old-fashioned honky-tonk approach suits Harling's purring, growling baritone. He wrote or co-wrote six of the 10 songs, and if he favors the cute-pun school of Music Row songwriting, the gravity of his voice lends a dignity to the proceedings. This is not a great album, but it offers the promise that traditional country may survive into the new century.
Appearing Sunday at the Bull Run Country Jamboree. To hear a free Sound Bite from Neal McCoy, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8101. For one from Keith Harling, press 8102. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)
CAPTION: Neal McCoy gets lost in the past.