By Bob Cannon
Updated February 14, 1997 at 05:00 AM EST

Kathy Mattea could induce tears by singing a VCR manual; when she applies her rich mezzo-soprano to incisive tunes by the likes of Gillian Welch and Cheryl Wheeler, she leaves the competition in the dust. By setting lyrics about personal growth against splashes of Celtic fiddle and percussive world beats, Mattea strays from the Nashville norm to turn in Love Travels, her most mature and focused work yet.