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'King of the Road' remake delights on soundtrack

Traveller: Music From the Motion Picture
Traveller: Music From the Motion Picture
By various artists

Asylum Records: 1997

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If ever there was a song that needed no remake, a song whose original could stand on its own for all time, it was Roger Miller's "King of the Road." At least, that seems pretty damn clear until you hear Randy Travis' equally classic, stripped-down version, and you wonder why he didn't do it years earlier.

And that's just one of the treats on the soundtrack to the Bill Paxton movie "Traveller." For instance, there's Jimmie Dale Gilmore, who reminds one of Woodie Guthrie in the effortless manner in which he blends country and folk into an earthy music that seems purely American. He covers two Lefty Frizzell tunes ("If You've Got The Money, I've Got The Time" and "I Love You a Thousand Ways") in his typically nasal, down-home and charming style.

Lest you get the idea that this is all country-western, though, there's Lou Ann Barton – the sultry Austin-based blues singer laying down "Te-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu." (BTW, the "Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas" album has Barton's version of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," which blows away Brenda Lee's original.) And K.D. Lang is backed by a cappella soulsters Take 6 on "Seven Lonely Days." Plus soul god Al Green's classic "Love and Happiness" is on here, too.

The rest of the album is filled out with some of the rising stars of the Asylum country stable – Royal Wade Kimes, Mandy Barnett and Kevin Sharp. Little of it will grab you the way the above highlights do, but the majority of it is still dramatically better than the polished, overproduced dross that passes for country on the radio these days. As soundtracks go, even in these times where a 10-second snippet may make it into the film just so the song can be tossed onto the CD, this is still much better than most. And Travis' cover of "King of the Road" is a must-listen.