George Strait and James Hand

Twang, and Shadow on the Ground (MCA)

Texas Platters

George Strait

Twang (MCA)

James Hand

Shadow on the Ground (Rounder)

Bound by genre but separated by style, George Strait and James Hand play and sing music that's still better off danced to than analyzed. George Strait is the hit machine, once the pride of San Marcos' Cheatham Street Warehouse and Austin's Broken Spoke, a Texan who's paid his dues with a clean, straightforward brand of modern country that defines the genre. Twang didn't have to be as good as it is, with its punchy Jim Lauderdale songs ("Twang," "I Gotta Get to You") and Delbert McClinton's "Same Kind of Crazy" hand-carving the edges like Strait was still playing local honky-tonks instead of singing hokum like "Where Have I Been All My Life" for the arena masses. James Hand crafts country with an early Johnny Cash flair ("Ain't a Goin'," "Men Like Me Can Fly") in the hiccup of no less than Hank Williams, but his swing-your-partner version of Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa," silly ditties such as "The Parakeet," and hardscrabble heartbreakers like "The Pain of Loving You" are strictly for the dance-hall crowd. There's no question of either veteran's Lone Star authenticity – suede and rawhide are both leather – but guess which one's disc comes with an insert advertising ringtones for every track?

(Twang) **.5

(Shadow) ***

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