So much ink and praise has been spilled on Randy Travis over the years, many people wonder if he really lives up to his reputation. Could any country singer be that good?

Well, the answer's yes. Like Joe Montana in football and Dustin Hoffman on the silver screen, Travis is every bit as good as his clips say he is.And this latest release from Warner is the proof in the pudding.

The album probably has too much of a contrived quality to ever be a true country classic. Classic country albums happen by accident, when a singer meets up with the perfect selection of songs, and then history takes over. Emmylou Harris and "Profile" is an example. So is Ricky Skaggs with "Country Boy."

On "Heroes and Friends" there's almost too much power and prestige to make for good listening. Every cut is designed to wow us. Nevertheless, many of the songs - which Travis sings in duet with the country's greatest names - will be surfacing for years.

It takes a big man, for instance, to stand toe-to-toe with George Jones and go one-on-one. And on "A Few Ole Country Boys" Travis holds his own, though there are a few phrases where the supple spin Jones can put on his voice sings Travis under the table.

Other highlights include a gutsy duet with B.B. King on "Waiting for the Light to Change" and the gospel-style "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" with Dolly.

Other performers include Tammy Wynette, Vern "The Voice" Gosdin and Roy Rogers.

To add to the naturalness here, producers have left some of the spoken asides by Kris Kristofferson and others on the cuts. And there's also an impressive list of country music heroes who perform without getting much credit (Chet Atkins, harmonica player Mickey Raphael and Kathy Baillie of Baillie and the Boys, to name three).

Weakest link may be the novelty number "Smokin' the Hive" with Clint Eastwood. Eastwood was included because of star appeal and nothing more. And, of course, a reviewer thinks of names he'd love to see sing a few licks with Travis who aren't featured - Linda Ronstadt, for instance, or Dwight Yoakam.

But, all told, this CD is a keeper.

It should enhance the lavish reputation of Randy Travis even more.