September 23, 2002 12:00 PM

Rebecca Lynn Howard (MCA Nashville)

Howard, who wrote her first song at age 7 while growing up in tiny Salyersville, Ky., is a 23-year-old country delight with a voice as clear as a chime and a head full of intelligent lyrics and bright melodies. Forgive has the inevitable touches of bluegrass and gospel, plus a surprising amount of optimism and romance for a modern woman singer. Howard also provides fresh stock for the tavern jukebox, with the wry Larry Cordle/Leslie Satcher song “Jesus and Bartenders”: “They both know a man in trouble when they see one/ And they’re both willing to listen when he talks.” There are moments of Celine Dion syndrome when Howard lapses into an “ah-ee-ah-ee-ah” segment on “Memorized.” But overall, Howard’s taste is an impeccable blend of Salyersville and Nashville.

Bottom Line: Forgive is divine

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