BROOKS & DUNN Greatest Hits Collection (Arista 0822-18852-2). Complain all you want about their "country bubblegum" sound and god-awful songs like "Boot-Scootin' Boogie." Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn have sold an incredible 19 million records, tapes and compact discs in the past six years, making them the second-most-successful American recording duo behind Simon & Garfunkel. How did they do it? Listen to the 19 cuts here and learn how. Like their marginally talented country colleagues, Alabama, these guys know a catchy song when they hear it, always kick out a good beat, and never take themselves too seriously. Their upcoming Buffalo concert with Reba McEntire next Friday at 8 p.m. in Marine Midland Arena should be a dandy. Rating: ***
-- Dan Herbeck
VARIOUS ARTISTS Including Vince Gill, George Jones and Alabama, Working Man's Blues (Hip-O HIPD-40046). Say this much for country music -- it speaks to the working man and the working woman. Songs like Gill's "A Little Left Over," Alabama's "40-Hour Week (For a Livin')" and Mark Chesnutt's "It Sure Is Monday" are anthems for those of us who drag our tails off to the workplace five mornings a week. This is a decent collection of 14 songs. A surprising delight is Jerry Jeff Walker's "Gettin' By," written in 1973 and never played on the radio anymore. Rating: ***
BLACKHAWK Love & Gravity (Arista ARCD-8854). Country rock doesn't get any smoother than the brand of music produced by this band, led by Henry Paul, formerly of the Outlaws. This two-disc set has all their early hits, plus their latest popular single, "Hole in My Heart," and the lush ballad "Postmarked Birmingham." The versatile band also uses a banjo and fiddle to put its stamp on one of the great underrated songs of the 1970s, Andrew Gold's "Lonely Boy." Rating: ***
HANK WILLIAMS JR. Movie Soundtrack From "Your Cheatin' Heart" (Rhino R2-72733). George Hamilton, a slick actor who reeks of Hollywood, was a ridiculous choice to play country legend Hank Williams in the 1964 biography of Hank's life. But Hank's son, then just 15 years old, was a great choice to dub in the music. Hank Jr. had his dad's style down pat, right down to that little yelp he would throw into the middle of a line. What makes this reissue worthwhile is that Rhino was able to find superb acoustic demos of "You Win Again," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and eight other songs. Nobody can touch the original Hank, but this was a pretty good try. Rating: ****
JIMMY ROGERS The Complete Chess Recordings, Chess 50th Anniversary Collection (MCA/Chess CHD2-9372). In the blues version of second fiddles, Jimmy Rogers is bowstring to bowstring with Hubert Sumlin, the great guitarist behind Howlin' Wolf. If anything, Rogers enjoyed more commercial success playing rhythm guitar all those years for Muddy Waters, and came out from behind the great man a lot sooner than Sumlin. In this, the first collection of Rogers' lead work for Phil and Leonard Chess, Rogers shows why of all the American blues guitarists, he's one of the most frequently mentioned by English guitarists like Eric Clapton and Keith Richards as their idol. Rogers, born James Lane 73 years ago in the Mississippi Delta, spent his best years playing behind Waters, Little Walter on harp and Willie Dixon on bass, but these 51 recordings make clear that he would have stood out without Muddy up front. You also quickly realize how often Rogers' tunes have been covered. Rating: ****
-- Michael Beebe
RONNIE EARL AND THE BROADCASTERS Grateful Heart: Blues & Ballads (Bullseye Blues, CD BB 9565). Those hung up on labels have a tough time tagging Ronnie Earl. Is he a jazzy blues guitarist? Or a bluesy jazz guitarist? Who knows? Who cares? When he hits those big fat chords and hangs onto them, someone needs to turn down the lights and make sure the drinks are fresh. Here he teams up with tenor sax legend David "Fathead" Newman on half the dozen cuts here in an eclectic mix that starts out with Coltrane's "Alabama," and includes tributes to Duane Allman, Carlos Santana and returning Vietnam veterans. The Broadcasters -- Per Hanson on drums and Rod Carey on bass -- come alive whenever fellow bandmate Bruce Katz comes in on keyboards, especially a sweet-sounding Hammond B-3 organ. Earl, Newman and Katz together make some of the finest music in years. Rating: *** 1/2
(1) 4 Seasons of Loneliness, Boyz II Men (Motown). (2) Honey, Mariah Carey (Columbia). (3) You Make Me Wanna . . . , Usher (LaFace). (4) How Do I Live, LeAnn Rimes (Curb). (5) Quit Playing Games (With My Heart), Backstreet Boys (Jive).
(1) Butterfly, Mariah Carey (Columbia). (2) You Light Up My Life -- Inspirational Songs, Leann Rimes (Curb). (3) When Disaster Strikes . . . ," Busta Rhymes (Elektra). (4) Ghetto D, Master P (No Limit). (5) No Way Out, Puff Daddy & the Family (Bad Boy).
ADULT CONTEMPORARY SINGLES
(1) How Do I Live, LeAnn Rimes (Curb). (2) Something About the Way You Look Tonight, Elton John (Rocket). (3) Quit Playing Games, Backstreet Boys (Jive). (4) Sunny Came Home, Shawn Colvin (Columbia). (5) Foolish Games, Jewel (Atlantic).