Three decades after their pop chart heyday with some of the most romantic hits of the early ’80s, Air Supply — Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock — were still going strong, touring the world every year.

The second decade of the 2000s began with a new burst of creativity as well, with the duo releasing Mumbo Jumbo — their first album of original material in eight years — and placing two songs on the adult contemporary charts. Even more impressive is Hitchcock’s reaching out of the Air Supply comfort zone for this rich, emotional excursion into pop-country territory on an expansive two-CD, 20-track set that finds him working with some of the city’s renowned session musicians and songwriters. Not surprisingly, while the singer employs a lower vocal tone than what most of his fans are used to, he still unapologetically plays the role of the super-romantic (the soaring opening ballad “Fallin'”) and resident heartbreaker (the soulful and ironic, steel guitar-tinged “It Don’t Mean a Thing”).

He’s not above rockin’ just a little, getting bluesy and drinking and smoking cigarettes to get his lost love back — but somehow makes being “Desperate” sound full of a potential silver lining. Disc two’s opening gush of heartbreak, “Far Enough Away from Colorado,” is where the more authentic country vibe on the collection enters full force, and it’s a ride that takes Hitchcock beyond simple affairs of the heart. He admits he’s a little crazy and rowdy on “May the Best Man Win” and experiences a little of Johnny Cash’s personal heartbreak on the somber retrospection of “Cash’s Last Days.” Usually, drinking is a celebrated theme in country music, but on “The Next Right Thing,” Hitchcock boldly explores the darker side, asking for one last chance after yet another bender. Disc two has a few conventional love ballads (“A Love Like This,” “Hold Me Like You Love Me”), but more clever expressions like “Like I’m Elvis” engage a bit more. Hitchcock’s busy “day job” with Air Supply, and the perception that this could be a one-time flirtation with Nashville, might preclude him being invited to CMA events or the Grand Ole Opry, but it’s remarkably strong, infectious effort that should be listened to with an open mind by country and pop fans alike. ~ Jonathan Widran

Disc: 1
1. Fallin
2. It’s Okay
3. Couldn’t Say I Love You
4. Cash’s Last Days
5. It Don’t Mean a Thing
6. A Love Like This
7. Like I’m Elvis
8. All I’ve Got Left
9. Desperate
10. For the Freeway Home

Disc: 2
1. Far Enough from Colorado
2. May the Best Man Win
3. You Can Always Count on Me
4. It’s You
5. The Next Right Thing
6. Always
7. These Walls
8. Good to See You Again
9. Hold Me Like You Love Me
10. Right Kind of Love

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Russell Hitchcock -Tennessee: The Nashville Sessions 2011

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