George Strait, Merle Haggard Lead New Country Releases

New music from George Strait , a new roots album from Merle Haggard , a new label for Danni Leigh , a bluegrass buzz and a treasure trove of historical reissues pace new country releases out this week.

Strait’s The Road Less Traveled (MCA Nashville) is his 28th album and includes his current single “Run,” which is No. 9 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. It also includes “My Life’s Been Grand,” written by Haggard, which Strait previewed at the Country Freedom Concert on Oct. 21.

Haggard’s Roots Volume 1 (Anti/Epitaph) includes three Haggard originals plus nine of his favorite roots country songs. Among those are five Lefty Frizzell tunes including “Always Late” and “If You’ve Got the Money Honey (I’ve Got the Time),” Hank Thompson ’s “I’ll Sign My Heart Away,” and the Fred Rose-Hy Heath composition “Take These Chains From My Heart.”

Haggard recorded Roots with Frizzell’s original guitar player, Norm Stephens. Haggard had patterned his own guitar style after Stephens’ style and learned this year that Stephens had lived about 20 miles from him for years without either man knowing it.

After two shots at major Nashville labels, Leigh tries again with an independent record company. Often referred to as “Dwight Lite,” Leigh drew appropriately on Dwight Yoakam ’s longtime producer and guitarist Pete Anderson to produce her new Divide and Conquer (Audium). Leigh co-wrote the songs “Yesterday” and “Last Train to San Antone.” Jim Lauderdale wrote the title track and two other songs and lends background vocals as well.

David Peterson & 1946 were the buzz byword at the 2000 International Bluegrass Music Association convention in Louisville. The big-voiced tenor singer and his homburg-wearing traditionalist band came uninvited and became the hit of the convention. The band is named for the year 1946, when bluegrass’ foundations were laid down by Bill Monroe and his crew of Blue Grass Boys, which included Earl Scruggs , Lester Flatt , Chubby Wise and Howard Watts. David Peterson & 1946’s self-titled first album is now available on their website. Guest musicians are Aubrey Haynie and Stuart Duncan.

Waylon Jennings is represented by two CDs worth of his songs on the retrospective RCA Country Legends: Waylon Jennings (Buddah). The package includes such lesser-known songs as “Walk On Out of My Mind” and “Yours Love” as well as such hits as “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)” and “Amanda.”

Country Music Hall of Fame member Elvis Presley proves his country mettle on the two-CD package The Country Side of Elvis (RCA). Such songs as “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Welcome to My World” and “There’s a Honky Tonk Angel” are showcased here.

Texas traditional singer Bill Neely, who died in 1990, recorded only one album in his lifetime. Cuts from that album, Blackland Farm Boy, are included on the 20-song retrospective Texas Law & Justice (Arhoolie). Such songs as the title cut and “Satan’s Burning Hell” depict Neely’s bleak and intense musical view of life. This includes several previously unreleased cuts, including “I’m a Truck Drivin’ Daddy” and “No Pockets in a Shroud.”

Nashville’s late Hickory Records was the record label arm of Acuff-Rose Publishing. In addition to recording such Acuff-Rose artists as Roy Acuff and Don Gibson , the label also released records by such pop singers as Sue Thompson and Gene & Debbie and British folk-hippie singer Donovan.

A cross-section of Hickory artists is included on The Hickory Records Story Vol. 1 (Audium). Artists here include Gibson, Thompson, Gene & Debbie, Kris Jensen, Ernie Ashworth, Bill Carlisle , Bob Luman , Don Everly , the Newbeats, Rusty & Doug Kershaw, and Wilma Lee & Stony Cooper .

The late Roy Acuff himself is the subject of The Good News According to Acuff (Audium). Included are such Acuff classics as “Radio Station S.A.V.E.D.,” “Dust on the Bible,” and “Life’s Railway to Heaven.”