November 19, 2001 12:00 PM

George Strait (MCA Nashville)

George Strait is aging better than a fine whiskey. Like those twin pillars of Nashville, George Jones and Merle Haggard, Strait, now 48, is sounding more nuanced and informed by experience, his always-mellow voice adding dimensions like a sturdy old oak adding rings. On this, Strait’s 28th album, he even touches on the work of Haggard with an eloquent cover of “My Life’s Been Grand.”

Overall, The Road Less Traveled is a terrific blend of artful material and thoughtful treatment, with Strait evocatively revisiting older compositions such as Rodney Crowell’s “Stars on the Water” and making the most of such new material as “The Real Thing,” a song by “Wild Thing” composer Chip Taylor.

While the disc cries out for a duet with a female country singer such as Chely Wright or Mandy Barnett for a change of pace, Strait does make effective use of some weathered studio musicians. If it’s the obligation of Nashville’s established stars to set an example for the younger generation (and it is), Strait is clearly fulfilling his responsibilities, always refining his talent and setting new standards.

Bottom Line: This Road is built to last

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