September 19, 1988 12:00 PM

Highway 101

Maybe this country band’s 1987 debut album was so good it generated unrealistically high expectations. Maybe Paulette Carlson and her three sidekicks used up their best material, songs they had spent years developing and polishing, and didn’t have time to come up with anything new that was as interesting. Whatever the explanation, or combination of explanations, this follow-up album seems listless in comparison with the record that included such lively, engaging tracks as Cry, Cry, Cry and Whiskey If You Were a Woman. While it’s a smoothly produced, varied record, what was exciting has become merely pleasant. Carlson’s lead vocals are still hearty and clean and unique; her voice seems more tremulous too, making her certainly the first singer to raise echoes of Dolly Parton and Edith Piaf in the same phrase. The band’s jaunty rhythmic charge seems dissipated, though, notwithstanding some decorative fills by the group’s guitarist, Jack Daniels, and sit-in pianist Dennis Burnside. The brightest tracks are Carlson’s duet with bassist Curtis Stone on the Mark Knopfler tune Setting Me Up and the more meditative All the Reasons Why which Carlson wrote with Beth Nielsen Chapman. In any case, if this isn’t the sort of record that wins a band a lot of new fans, it at least won’t insult the old ones. So there’s time for Carlson & Co. to ponder their sources of inspiration. Maybe Highway 101 just came to a crossroads sooner than anyone expected. (Warner Bros.)

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