KATHY MATTEA "Willow in the Wind." Mercury....

KATHY MATTEA "Willow in the Wind." Mercury. ***

This record brims with homespun advice and lesson-filled allegories, like "You've gotta sing like you don't need the money" and "You don't choose love, love chooses you." Fortunately, Mattea, who opens for George Strait tonight at the Pacific Amphitheatre, sounds as if she's singing for more than just a paycheck. She treats the songs, most of which are about lives in transition, with the requisite humility and honesty so their simple charms are not inflated into stentorian Author's Messages. Her heart-in-the-throat vocals--from the country-period Linda Ronstadt/Jennifer Warnes school--have, like most of the record, the unassuming grace of, yes, a willow in the wind.

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