The Travis Allison Band, a Richmond-based quintet, has something that sets it apart from most of the bar-band competition--songs. Real songs. Not just party anthems or thinly disguised cover tunes, but fully realized and often ambitious songs written or co-written by Allison, the band's vocalist, keyboardist and acoustic guitarist.

From the opening ballad, "Tall and Beautiful," it's clear that Allison has developed a knack for storytelling. Several of his best songs, in fact, take the shape of narratives that unfold in poignant, sorrowful or uplifting ways. Like a young Springsteen, he can be a bit verbose and predictable at times. "The Game," for instance, opens with the line "Stuck inside the middle of a human mess/ He's got medals hanging on his blue collar chest." But much more often Allison's songs benefit from the sheer quality of his writing, whether the tale is impassioned, introspective or inspiring.

Turns out he's no slouch as a tunesmith either. With plenty of help from guitarist Chris Vasi, reedman Chris Dryden, bassist Pat Porter and drummer Grant Kersey, Allison craftily blends elements of pop, folk, rock, soul and gospel music. The result? A bar-band album that's probably best appreciated playing in your living room.

-- Mike JoyceAppearing Thursday at Zig's.

* To hear a free Sound Bite from the Travis Allison Band, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8123. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)

CAPTION: Richmond's Travis Allison Band is strong on songcraft.