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Never one to waste time or talent, the remarkably consistent George Strait continues on his new release to do what Garth Brooks could not: stay true to his New Traditionalist roots without sacrificing crossover charm (something tells me you’re not going to see Strait on a Kiss tribute album). The first of the “hat” squad (Brooks and Alan Jackson were smart enough to follow suit and don the cowboy cool), Strait didn’t miss a beat when producer Jimmy Bowen set sail for Liberty in ’92; Blue Clear Sky masterfully extends the honky-tonk crooner’s near-perfect, 15-year track record. Accompanied by his always-tight Ace in the Hole Band, Strait can deliver single-worthy cuts like the bouncy title song in his sleep, and has way too much fun with the sexy Nashville rag of “I Ain’t Never Seen No One Like You,” so it’s the collection of ballads that slow-burns brightest: “I’d Just as Soon Go” and “Carried Away” showcase Strait’s never saccharine, always inventive phrasing. The ballroom posturing of “Need I Say More” is delivered straight up, no ham, in a swooning finale for yet another well-crafted offering from handsome George. —Sean Daly