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`FAMILIAR STRANGERS' OFFERS INTRODUCTION TO WRIGHT'S TALENT

In the local LDS pop market, Jim Wright is known as "The Voice." It's an apt - though unoriginal - nickname. Country's Vern Gosdin is called "The Voice." But when you're a pop singer with great pipes, you soon realize the good names are gone: The Velvet Fog, Old Blue Eyes, The King.

Wright may have to content himself with being Jim Wright. And after listening to his new CD, "Familiar Strangers," you may decide that's not a bad thing to be."Familiar Strangers" is the latest addition to the exploding LDS music market. And Wright has recruited some heavy hitters to help him out. Greg Hansen arranged and helped produce the album. Michael Dowdle chips with in some guitar work. Brett Raymond and others help. And Felicia Sorensen adds background vocals.

But Wright, who wrote all the songs, does the heavy lifting. And as debut albums are wont to do, this one spikes both high and low.

One of the nice things about LDS singer/songwriters is they never get locked into song after song about romantic love. Like LDS writers, they feel compelled to "testify" to myriad experiences. Here Wright dips into the past for some family history ("Like a Man," "Wish I Could've Seen Him Play," "Forgiven"), takes a look at military experience ("Answer the Call") and lets us in on a couple of personal dreams ("Legacy of Harmony.")

The strongest songs - to my ear - are about Wright's relationship with his family. "Forgiven," for instance, is more than a wonderful song, it's an object lesson about getting on with your life. And "Roses," with its heartfelt longing, is fast becoming an LDS staple.

But over the course of the 10 tunes the album tends to lose some steam. A generic quality creeps in. Part of that comes from doing material from just one songwriter, part of it comes from the arrangements. Greg Hansen is a cracker-jack arranger, but he goes to the well of synthetic music a little too often here. You come to anticipate that Stevie Wonder electric piano kicking in on almost every cut.

A couple of Jim Wright "unplugged" numbers would have gone a long way.

Wright is a talent, and a major talent. And for a first CD, "Familiar Strangers" is strong and impressive. Yet even though the singer gives his all, listeners might come away wanting more. What would this man with the golden throat do with a classic tune? (Imagine him on a Bernstein number.) And what type of spin would he give the best music of Michael McLean and Marvin Payne?

Perhaps some day we'll know. For now, "Familiar Strangers" is a good introduction to the singer and his songs. And just one listen to the song "Roses" is enough to let the world know we'll be hearing from him.