“Beyond the Blue Neon.” MCA. **
If you think the title is a hint that this long, lean Texan is reaching beyond the pretty, superficial glow that has characterized--and limited--his work to date, think again. This is the house of human emotion from a singer who’s content to gaze at it from a safe distance rather than step through the door and see what’s lurking inside. In songs that depend solely on Strait’s sturdy but plain voice--like most of the ballads--once around the turntable is more than enough. There’s also more than enough silly word play in quasi-novelty tunes like “Hollywood Squares” (“I’ve got so many ex’s, and I owe so much, I oughta be on the Hollywood Squares”). Only in two fleet-footed swing numbers, when his top-drawer Ace in the Hole band steps out of the background, does Strait do justice to his roots in the homeland of Bob Wills. The rest of the time, he’s pretty much a stranger in the house.