Circle Anthology, Strait Reissue Lead New Releases

A George Strait retrospective and the 30th anniversary reissue of a classic meeting between bluegrass and mountain music masters and a younger country generation lead new album releases this week. Also out are the return of Mindy McCready , a new CD by Rhett Akins , the debut work from a Whiskeytown alumna and the first album by a young Tennessee duo.

The latest release in MCA Nashville’s continuing series 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection features some of Strait’s best-known work. The album contains 12 songs recorded between 1983 and 1993, including “Ace in the Hole,” “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” “You Look So Good in Love” and “Baby Blue.”

Thirty years ago, a landmark collaboration album appeared, joining the young, progressive country group the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with six masters of mountain and bluegrass music and some of the best session players in Nashville. Will the Circle Be Unbroken has now been reissued on Capitol Nashville, with additional music, making this package stretch over two hours.

The original songs have been digitally re-mastered from the original analog tapes, and photographs and notes from the 1971 recording sessions at Nashville’s Woodland Studio have been included. Songs cover the epochal careers of Mother Maybelle Carter from country music’s founding family the Carter Family , bluegrass banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs , folk guitar wizard Doc Watson, mountain music patriarch Roy Acuff , guitar legend Merle Travis , and bluegrass maverick Jimmy Martin. What the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack does for roots music, Circle did for traditional, mountain and bluegrass music. The Dirt Band serve as musical catalysts here, rather than projecting themselves into the forefront, and the result stands as a timeless and ageless classic.

McCready had been a hitmaker of pop country for the RCA Label Group Nashville before exiting the label. Now she returns on Capitol Nashville with a self-titled album that continues her pop leanings. It includes such sensual songs as “Don’t Speak,” as well as the Leslie Satcher song “The Fire.”

Akins, too, has been away from mainstream country for a spell. After a modestly successful run at now-defunct Decca Records with songs such as “That Ain’t My Truck,” he returns on Nashville independent label Audium with Friday Night in Dixie. Akins serves as co-producer with Charlie Daniels and two others on cuts such as the title song, “Where the Blacktop Ends” (not the Keith Urban hit) and “That Girl.”

Caitlin Cary was a mainstay of the alt-country group Whiskeytown, with her singing and violin playing. Now she releases her solo debut While You Weren’t Looking (Yep Roc), which follows last year’s well-received EP, Waltzie. Besides the 11 new songs, the new package includes a bonus disc containing a duet with ex-Whiskeytown-er Ryan Adams on “The Battle,” the Whiskeytown recording of “The Fair” and two other songs.

Former punk rockers Molly Conley and Gary Roadarmel from Murfreesboro, Tenn., are the nucleus of the group Porter Hall, Tennessee — there is no such actual town. Their debut work Welcome to Porter Hall, Tennessee (Slewfoot) leans heavily toward alt-country, with songs such as “Screwed Blue,” “Drunkard and an Angel” and “Golden Chain of Hate.”