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MUSIC REVIEWS: James Blunt, Mark Knopfler

JAMES BLUNT "All the Lost Souls" (Atlantic) 2 stars

Two years ago he sang the song that made women sing and swoon, a sweet thing called "Beautiful" that exposed the softer, sensitive side of this graduate of Britain's Royal Military Academy. Blunt may be a decorated soldier, but as a songwriter, he's a woman's man who writes odes and sonnets that fall somewhere on a line between David Gray and David Gates.

On "Souls" he sustains that formula over the course of 10 epic anthems and dainty ballads about love and romance, with an adult-rocker tossed in for relief. Several of his song titles reveal the thin, predictable plot: "Carry You Home," "Give Me Some Love," "I Really Want You," "Shine On."

Throughout, his voice sounds strongly like Barry Gibbs': a quavering falsetto that dramatizes his angst or regret or unadulterated joy. It's particularly noticeable in "One of the Brightest Stars," which, melodically, bears a heavy resemblance to "Run to Me."

It's hard to imagine any of the songs here will be as rampantly contagious as his first mega-hit. On the other hand, there are so many songs here about love and special things, it's easy to assume he'll make all the young girls (and their moms) sing and swoon and cry along with him. Mission accomplished, captain.

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MARK KNOPFLER "Kill to Get Crimson" (Warner) 2 ½ stars

"Crimson" is Mark Knopfler's fifth studio album since Y2K, which ought to signify that he is regularly flush with new ideas or innovation.

Not really. Now 58 and more than 11 years removed from Dire Straits, Knopfler seems so comfortable in his career skin he either doesn't mind or notice the stasis he's in.

Like its older kin, "Crimson" features all his signatures and house specials: the low, deadpan voice that can't quite scale the octave its in; the inimitable guitar tone that identifies him; the warm, handsome melodies that attract and engage but never quite seduce; lyrics that converse and tell stories, but rarely preach, profess or confess; production (Guy Fletcher, Chuck Ainlay) that keeps it simple, warm and organic.

Anyone fond of his franchise sound (count me in), will find plenty to nibble on here: lambent and breezy ballads and lullabies like "True Love Will Never Fade," "Heart Full of Holes" and "The Scaffolder's Wife"; the charming "Secondary Waltz," a boxer's recollection of schoolboy dance lessons; and "We Can Get Wild," a mid-tempo blues number with a Southwestern accent.

It also includes plenty of room for Knopfler to exercise his guitar mojo, which he does most pleasingly in the hypnotic "The Fuzzy and the Still."

"Crimson" starts to lose its punch toward the end, when Knopfler seems to be more focused on creating mood than with crafting melodies and songs. The final number, "In the Sky," clocks in beyond 7 minutes, and it meanders getting there.

When I say the sax fills and solos give the song a strong Kenny G flavor, take that any way you wish. It's a trait that's comparatively fresh to Knopfler's sound, but one that he could do without. Sometimes staying the way you are is the better option.

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