It’s a Nashville truism that nearly any country artist will try for crossover success if given the opportunity. Faith Hill had her chance in 1998 and she took it with grace and integrity. Her Faith album doesn’t abandon her earlier sound so much as accentuate its inherent pop elements. The key track here, of course, is “This Kiss,” a giddy celebration of smooching that made Hill a bonafide superstar. Beyond this megahit, Faith avoids obvious filler in favor of top-drawer material. The album’s mostly midtempo tunes carry hints of Southern soul (“Let Me Let Go”) and ‘70s-style country rock (“My Wild Frontier,””Love Ain’t Like That’), giving Hill room to emote without slipping into excess. While a melancholy note creeps in here and there, the prevailing mood is positive — “Me” is a ringing affirmation of self-belief, while “Just To Hear You Say That You Love Me” (a duet with husband Tim McGraw) is a toast to true and lasting love. “The Secret of Life” and “Somebody Stand By Me” (the latter contributed by Sheryl Crow) provide Hill with especially meaty lyrics. Faith is a smooth and confident release from an artist ready for the big time.

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