By Alanna Nash
Updated January 28, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

John Michael Montgomery’s first album, 1992’s Life’s a Dance, immediately separated the singer from all the other hunky young hat acts through a golden- jukebox mix of romantic ballads, Western swing, and catchy honky-tonk laments. Montgomery delivered all of it with the confident exuberance he honed over years of working bars in his native Kentucky. The album quickly went platinum. So, in typical Nashville thinking, Atlantic fixed what wasn’t broke, picking a new producer-hit maker Scott Hendricks, known for his work with Brooks & Dunn-to guide Montgomery’s second effort, Kickin’ It Up (Atlantic), to multi-platinum heights. In doing so, however, Hendricks moved Montgomery out of the gritty beer joints and into the suburban line-dance clubs, substituting formula for freshness. While he gives the singer plenty of ballads (”I Swear,” ”Rope the Moon”) to help woo the ladies, too many of the songs bland out into cookie- cutter dance filler (”She Don’t Need a Band to Dance”) and tepid soft rock better suited to generic groups like Restless Heart. Montgomery does a good job selling the product, but that’s just what this album is. Kickin’ It Up? More like playing it safe. B –