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The great thing about contemporary "folk" is that it comes in so many different shades. There's Irish folk and American folk and Brazilian folk and Bulgarian folk and folk music from just about every other nation on the planet.

In this country alone there's country-folk, folk-rock, zydeco, folk-blues, folkabilly, southern folk, coffee-shop folk and even the old-fashioned kind of folk that Woodie Guthrie and Leadbelly used to play while riding boxcars.These are heady times for folk music fans. Heavyweights from Paul Simon to John Mellencamp to Sting have relied heavily upon folk influences to push their music to new heights.

But lost somewhere along the way are scores of singer-songwriters who make today's contemporary folk scene such a smorgasbord.

Like English folk-rockers Clive Gregson and Christine Collister, whose latest is "Love Is a Strange Hotel" (Rhino). While Gregson is a critically acclaimed songwriter is his own right, "Hotel" is an impressive collection of cover tunes by the likes of Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Darden Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Aztec Camera and Merle Haggard.

And the proof of this English pudding is their ability to take the material of other songwriters and put a whole new interpretation on it - often better than the original versions.

Such is the case with the Darden Smith-Boo Hewerdine tune "Love Is a Strange Hotel," a wickedly funny tune about a bride left standing at the altar that comes across much better with a male-female duet than it ever did on the Smith-Hewerdine "Evidence" album.

And their version of Springsteen's "One Step Up" is downright haunting, while they take 10cc's "The Things You Do for Love" and turn an otherwise forgettable tune into an undeniably enjoyable one. The list goes on and on.

Unlike the darker approach of the duo's first two albums, "Hotel" takes a sublime approach to the cover songs, emphasizing Gregson's acoustic guitar work and Collister's soulful vocals. And the result is mesmerizing harmonies as good as any heard this year.

The duo, which first came to light playing second fiddle to Richard and Linda Thompson, prove on "Hotel" they are deserving of more than critical acclaim. It's time for some commercial recognition to go along with it. * * * 1/2

EDITOR'S NOTE: Clive Gregson and Christine Collister will perform Tuesday, March 26, at the Social Work Auditorium, University of Utah, at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at Acoustic Music, 857 E. 400 South, and the usual ticket outlets.

In the 1970s, they called Jerry Jeff's style of Texas music "progressive country." Before that, they called it country-rock. Today, it's almost impossible to pigeonhole the music of Jerry Jeff Walker, the quintessential gypsy songman who's now been playing his distinctive brand of love and wanderlust for more than three decades.

His latest, "Navajo Rug" (Tried and True Music), keeps with Walker's time-proven formula of lilting folk and Texas country. And like most Jerry Jeff albums, he scores on about half.

In the case of "Navajo Rug," the first half is downright brilliant. And the second half is downright forgettable.

On the positive side of the ledger is the title track, a delightful tune penned by Ian Tyson and Tom Russell, the Guy Clark honky-tonker "I'm All Through Throwing Good Love After Bad," and Bill Staines' "Flowers in the Snow." The best original song is unquestionably "Blue Mood," a late-night drinkin' tune delivered in Jerry Jeff's loneliest growl.

On the negative side are awful songs like the worshipful tribute to baseball great Nolan Ryan and "Rockin' on the River."

For fans of Jerry Jeff, "Navajo Rug" (available through Rykodisc) is worth the four or five really good songs. For non-fans, save your money. * *

While Jerry Jeff is the old veteran, Mike Reid is still a relative newcomer. But you'd never know it by his music.

Reid, the 1985 ASCAP Songwriter of the Year, makes his recording debut with "Turning for Home" (Columbia), a folk-flavored album of acoustic tunes that exhibit remarkable depth and maturity. Like Mary Chapin Carpenter, Reid exhibits a talent for taking normal, everyday human situations and turning them into a unique musical poetry with much broader message.

The best of the bunch are "Turning for Home," a song about going home at the end of a work day, and "The Road," a song about the well-traveled road in front of the old homestead and going home. And there's "Walk on Faith" and "I Got a Life" that celebrate the joys of home and family.

Granted, those are topics that could and often do lend themselves to country-worn cliches. But Reid exhibits a remarkable ability to put a new twist on a simple idea, and in the process shows he can sing as well as he can write songs.

Reid is best known as Ronnie Milsap's primary songwriter ("Stranger in My House" and "Lost in the Fifties" both won Grammy awards), as well as penning "One Good Well" for Don Williams, "There You Are" for Willie Nelson, "Born to Be Blue" for the Judds and "He Talks to Me" for Lorrie Morgan. * * *

For fans of the off-beat, they don't get much further "off" than the hillbilly blues of the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, the hottest thing out of Athens, Ga., since R.E.M.

Fresh on the heels of last year's "White Dirt," the Puppies (Ben Reynolds and Brant Slay) have released "8 Track Stomp," a collection of strange backwater tunes that address everything from the KKK to drug abuse.

To get a flavor for the unusual mix of cajun, stomp blues and southern rock, consider the 13 tracks are produced alternately by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and Willie Dixon, the blues master behind Chess Records who even co-wrote "Oh Yeah" for his young proteges. The Puppies themselves are also fanatics of Chuck Berry, Howlin' Wolf, Tom Waits and Patti Smith.

It's an indescribable hybrid that adds a whole new dimension, not just to Southern music, but to American music as a whole. And it's a genre that will be difficult for anyone to imitate.

"The blues are the inspiration, but just by virtue of us having grown up in a modern Southern culture, it comes out different," Reynolds said. "Willie Dixon accepted us fine, and I don't need any more approval than that."

Unfortunately, "8 Track Stomp" (Wing Records) is not available on 8-track tape.