Travis Tritt
Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof
(Warner Bros.)

Ever since his famed and feted "No Hats Tour" with fellow neo-outlaw Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt has trod the path less taken--especially by Nashville standards. He's done duets with Patti LaBelle and David Lee Roth. He joined Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Tom Petty on a tribute CD to George Harrison. Remember, too: This is the fella who got Music City all riled up when he dared question the talent quotient of 15-minute darling Billy Ray Cyrus. Tritt was right, of course.

And, surely to Nashville's grief, he's continuing his wicked, wicked ways with his most recent Warner Bros. release, Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof. Mostly written by the Marietta, Georgia-born Tritt, this is a collection of traditional, stone-country rock and soul, with a bit of blues and a Nineties attitude. "Walkin' All Over My Heart," for example, is a classic cheatin' number effectively punctuated by Billy Joe Walker Jr.'s mean electrified guitar, and the title track tangles with the ramifications of fortifying oneself with liquid courage. Tritt's native-son affinity for grits rock is apparent in the rollicking "Wishful Thinking," co-written with Lynyrd Skynyrd legend Gary Rossington.

There are a couple of ballads here, too, which aren't necessarily Tritt's strongest suit. But the album's first single, the wistful "Foolish Pride," is a fine sample of what Tritt can do with his gravelly twang in softer circumstances, and the tune has become a big radio hit. As usual, however, Tritt is a treat with the blues, especially in "No Vacation From the Blues," which includes a Marty Stuart solo at no extra charge.

The most entertaining, if not the swellest, track on Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof is Tritt's latest ode to the odd, "Outlaws Like Us," featuring outlaws emeriti Hank Williams Jr. and Tritt hero Waylon Jennings.

Good, ornery stuff here, best listened to with a cold beer and a hard scowl. And leave your Stetson at home, dude.

Stuttering John
Stuttering John
(Atlantic)

Fans of the Howard Stern radio show will probably welcome the opportunity to hear Stuttering John Menendez's debut CD without the King of All Media stopping it every three seconds to offer criticism. Surprisingly, no novelty, this; John's come up with a decent batch of music. "Get Off My Lawn" and "Guilt" reveal the heady influence of both Nirvana and Enuff Z'Nuff. Elsewhere, "Gypsy Morning" displays Aerosmith sensibilities, sounding like a Pump outtake right down to the mandolin interludes bookending the song. In light of John's speech impediment, listeners may find "Talk My Way Out of It" a little hard to believe. Equally puzzling is that S.J. has no problem doing the spoken ad-libs on "Guilt," but gets stuck on the chorus (F-F-F-F-F-GUILT!"). Menendez even turns in an articulate rock ballad/anthem, "The Place." The real question raised by this disc begs asking--if this takes off, will Howard send Stuttering John out to interview himself?

Heavy D and the Boyz
Nuttin' but Love
(Uptown/MCA)

Looking for a recipe for romance and relaxation that doesn't involve incense and Calgon? Try Nuttin' but Love, the fifth album from Heavy D and the Boyz, a sensual mix of soft, bubble-bath beats oozing with do-good lyrics. While most rappers curse out everybody but their mothers, Heavy somehow manages to keep his lyrics clean and free of vulgarity. Even your grandmother could chill with Heavy.

The previous album, Blue Funk, was as hard-core as the rapper is ever going to get; listeners got a taste of the Boyz's emotional side as they reminisced after the tragic death of a group member. The album did all but hold a funeral. Nuttin' but Love is just as funky, but holds a more upbeat tempo and a happier motif.

On "Somethin' Goin On," Heavy employs notorious producer Marly Marl to drop old-school beats behind his woeful confessions of lost love. No, you won't be forced to swallow violent, misogynist lyrics on Heavy's tracks; as an ode to women of color, "Black Coffee" praises black women as "sexy souffl‚s with no sugar no cream . . . the backbone of the black home." This is one of the feel-good CDs of the summer, offering a soulful blend of flossy jazz/funk melodies and rhythm that adds up to Nuttin' but Love.

Pretenders
Last of the Independents
(Sire)

Despite this album's title, it became necessary to call in outside tunesmiths Billy Steinberg and Tim Kelly (Madonna, Cyndi Lauper) to help Chrissie Hynde out of her songwriting slump. Happily, it worked. Not since the Pretenders' debut has it been this easy to fall in love with Hynde's sultry voice and her world-wise lyrics. Whether you interpret "Night in My Veins" as a sex-is-heroin analogy or the other way around (unlikely, since two of the original Pretenders OD'd), it's a gorgeous single, on a par with "Talk of the Town" and "Kid."

Unlike the material on Hynde's last few albums, nothing on Last of the Independents sounds like a rewrite from the first album. The soul-mama delivery of "Money Talks" is another welcome surprise, and lyrical boasts like "You can buy a squeegy little silicone sack, but it won't feed the world like the ones that I pack naturally" prove Hynde really is P.J. Harvey's spiritual godmother.

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