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'Country Strong' soundtrack is traditional country

The Associated Press, Tuesday, January 4, 2011, 9:58am (PST)

Various Artists, "Country Strong: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" (RCA Nashville)

As often happens with Hollywood films, the soundtrack to "Country Strong," starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw, leans harder on traditional country music than the Nashville music industry does. Modern country music blurs genre lines with its rocking pop-country hybrid; "Country Strong" highlights an older-fashioned sound firmly belonging to country traditions with performances by Hank Williams Jr., Lee Ann Womack, a duet with Chris Young and Patty Loveless, and others.

Paltrow will get the most attention for her three new songs and a duet with McGraw. Playing an aging country star, she sings convincingly, although not distinctive enough to suggest she has an alternate career as a country diva.

Leighton Meester, co-star of TV's "Gossip Girl," plays a beauty queen seeking a career in country music, while Garrett Hedlund of "TRON: Legacy" plays an attractive, young singer-songwriter. Both present a song each: Meester's breathy voice is reminiscent of several contemporary female country stars; Hedlund's rough-cut acoustic song presents a stand-out moment.

Too many songs, such as Sara Evans' "A Little Bit Stronger," sound like throwaways left off previous albums. But Faith Hill's slow boil on "Give in to Me" shows the pretenders what makes a great country music performance.

CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: Ronnie Dunn's first solo offering since the end of Brooks & Dunn goes back to the barrooms with a superb version of "She's Actin' Single (I'm Drinking Doubles)," a Wayne Carson song that the late Gary Stewart turned into a honky-tonk classic.

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