Country Releases Depict the Music’s Wide Variety

New Albums Range From Polka to Bluegrass to Rodeo

Country releases are highlighted by new works from Chely Wright and Chad Brock , an all-star Hank Williams tribute, a debut album by actor Billy Bob Thornton, an all-star Ralph Stanley duet album, an all-star bull-riding compilation and an all-star polka review from polka king Jimmy Sturr.

Rising star Wright began clicking when she left Polydor after recording obscure albums in 1994 and 1996. After her MCA Nashville debut in 1997 — Let Me In — she began attracting a much wider audience with 1999’s Single White Female. Her new album, Never Love You Enough, also on MCA, includes several songs she wrote singly or co-wrote, including three composed with Brad Paisley .

Brock gained a wide country audience with the hit “Ordinary Life” from his self-titled Warner Bros. debut album in 1998 and expanded on that with the title song from last year’s Yes!. His new Warner album, III, was produced by hitmakers Norro Wilson and Buddy Cannon, whose work goes back as far as Tammy Wynette and who have had recent success with Sara Evans , among others.

Actor/singer Thornton’s debut album, Private Radio, on Lost Highway records, was produced by Marty Stuart and Jim Mitchell. Prominent Nashville musicians playing on it include Stuart, Hank Williams Sr.’s steel guitarist Don Helms, Randy Scruggs and Barry Beckett. Songs include the Mark Collie-penned title song, the Dwight Yoakam co-composition “Starlight Lounge,” some Thornton originals -– including two written for wife Angelina Jolie –- and cover versions of the Byrds’ “He Was a Friend of Mine” and Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway.”

The Hank Williams tribute, also on Lost Highway, is Timeless: Hank Williams Tribute. It includes Williams songs covered by Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Keb’ Mo’, Beck, Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris , Tom Petty, Keith Richards, Hank Williams III , Ryan Adams , Lucinda Williams and Johnny Cash .

Bluegrass legend Stanley pairs with a number of leading women singers on Clinch Mountain Sweethearts on Rebel Records. His partners on 16 bluegrass and mountain music standards are Iris DeMent (on two songs), Pam Tillis , Patty Mitchell, Gillian Welch, Dolly Parton , Maria Muldaur, Evans, Joan Baez, Kristi Stanley, Gail Davies , Wright, Melba Montgomery , Jeannie Seely , Lucinda Williams and Valerie Smith .

Polka legend Jimmy Sturr’s new Gone Polka on Rounder Records features -– among others -– Willie Nelson and Brenda Lee going polka. Nelson sings the “On the Road Again Polka,” “Yellow Rose of Texas Polka,” “Waltz Across Texas Polka” and “Just Because Polka.” Lee contributes the “Music Music Music Polka” and the “Richochet Polka.”

Dancin’ With Thunder on Epic is a compilation put together as “the official music of the PBR,” the latter being Professional Bull Riders, Inc., a spin-off from the rodeo circuit. Songs -– some written for this album -– are performed by Billy Ray Cyrus , Jewel, Toby Keith , Montgomery Gentry , the Charlie Daniels Band, Deryl Dodd , Jack Ingram, David Lee Murphy , the late Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble and Wild Horses.

Also out this week is She Daisy ’s The Whole Shebang: All Mixed Up, a collection of re-mixes for radio of their debut album, 1999’s The Whole Shebang.