MARK McGUINN

Mark McGuinn must have tossed his copy of How to Be a Country Music Star out the window, and country music is better off for it.

Mark McGuinn must have tossed his copy of How to Be a Country Music Star out the window, and country music is better off for it. Definitely not cookie- cutter, berets, banjos, and bravado make this debut project hum, from the clever "Mrs. Steven Rudy" to the gently thrumming "Heaven Must Be Missin' You." Production is crisp and creative, and the songwriting takes risks. "No Way" is "She's in Love With the Boy" on steroids, and McGuinn shows his soul and sense of country irony with the barroom ballad "She Doesn't Dance" and the nifty midtempo "Busy Signal." As a vocalist, McGuinn eschews note-bending gymnastics for an accessible, conversational tone, bringing a credible quality to such songs as "That's a Plan," "All About the Ride," and the syncopated percussion of "One of Their Own." With "Mrs. Steven Rudy," McGuinn has achieved that rare prize—a country radio hit for an indie label. The rest of this album shows "Rudy" is no fluke. Distributed by RED Distribution.—RW