He was going to give up his dream of being a country music star. Several trips to Nashville hadn't panned out, so 12 years ago George Strait fired his band and took a job with a company that designed cattle pens and auction barns.

Then he decided to give it one more try.Today, Strait is country music. He's won the major vocalist and entertainer awards from the Country Music Association, Billboard magazine, Music City News and others.

It's almost impossible to picture country music without some of his No. 1 hits: "Fool Hearted Memory," "Amarillo By Morning," "You Look So Good in Love," "Ocean Front Property," "All My Ex's Live in Texas."

In country music, rags to riches stories are common. What isn't common is the incredible staying power, the superior quality and the appeal of Strait's music. Some artists are hit-and-miss: a great song, a fair song, a nothing song. Strait's music is pure bull's eye.

"Chill of an Early Fall," just released by MCA Records on CD, LP and cassette, is Strait as good as he's ever been.

He didn't write any of the songs. His talent is in his interpretation and in his selection. And I think I know how Strait selects which songs he'll record.

A Strait song has to be about people. The songs are plain and simple with clear meanings. There has to be something quirky and just right about the lyrics. The words have to really work together to create something special.

Like "If I Know Me," with "If I know me, I'll turn this heart around." It's a rich, satisfying song that tells exactly why Strait keeps winning the top awards. You just can't love country music and not love him.

He's also a fan of the rhyme: "She's an angel and I ain't. Lord knows she deserves a saint. And it don't take an angel to see, her only bad habit is me."

Variety on an album is another Strait trademark, and it's here as well. From the almost-yodel of "Lovesick Blues," to the long musical bridge in "Milk Cow Blues," to the mournful quality of the guitars in "Anything You Can Spare" and then the fast, don't-you-want-to-dance rhythms of "Home in San Antone," Strait satisfies a longing for almost any type of country. And if, unbelievably, you don't like one of the songs or styles, hang on. He's going to do something really different in a minute.

The Forrester Sisters' latest, "Talkin' 'Bout Men," is a little less even, but very enjoyable.

The Warners Brothers release is a nice combination of songs, from the almost-jazzy "A Step in the Right Direction" to the very haunting "Somebody Else's Moon." The rhythms are different, but the theme is universal: relationships.

You'd have to do some searching to find a more upbeat song than "Too Much Fun," about a man who wants to come back, but his former love refuses because she's thrown over the traces. And you'd have to look just as hard to find a more plaintive song than "That Makes One of Us."

"Men" is already a hit. It's a brassy, somewhat humorous but bitter look at the male of the species: "They're nothing but a bunch of overgrown boys. You can't beat 'em up because 'cuz they're bigger than you, you can't live with 'em and you just can't shoot 'em."

The album seems like a showcase for a single voice - an odd thing with a talented quartet. And some of the really strong, lovely harmonies found in older songs like "I'd Choose You" are missing in most of the songs ("You Take Me for Granted" is one exception).

At their worst, the Forrester Sisters are among the best. And this album, compared to so many being released, is wonderful. But it doesn't do them justice.