Kenny Chesney ’s No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems leads a pack of new country albums this week. Also being released are a live concert by Townes Van Zandt, the debut CD from Kevin Denney, four bluegrass CDs, the latest from an alt-country memory and albums by two veteran singer-songwriters.
Chesney’s No Shoes (BNA) is the singer’s seventh album (he has five other studio albums and a greatest hits package). It includes his current single, “Young,” which is No. 2 on the current Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks charts. He co-wrote two of the album’s 12 songs with Skip Ewing and draws upon such songwriters as Bill Anderson, Dean Dillon and Stephony Smith for other cuts. Chesney also covers the Bruce Springsteen song “One Step Up.”
Denney is a young Kentucky artist who began in bluegrass as a child and shifted into country music fulltime. His debut album is Kevin Denney (Lyric Street). He co-wrote four of these 11 songs, including the current single “That’s Just Jessie,” which is No. 18 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.
The late Townes Van Zandt played Carnegie Hall only once in his career, in 1969, when he was 25 years old and two albums into his recording career. The concert was recorded, but in the chaos that was Van Zandt’s professional career, the tapes were shelved for many years. Now, that nine-song — and one spoken word interlude — concert is released as A Gentle Evening With Townes Van Zandt (Dualtone). This marks the first recorded version of his song “Talking KKK Blues,” which early in his career caused him to be rejected in an audition by the Sand Mountain folk music club in Houston. Other songs include “Talking Thunderbird Wine Blues,” “Lungs” and “Rake.” The spoken word interlude is “A Joke.”
Veteran bluegrass singer Charlie Sizemore returns with The Story Is: The Songs of Tom T. Hall (Rebel). He covers 13 of Hall’s songs, including “Kentucky in the Morning,” “I Flew Over Our House Last Night,” and “Me and Jesus.” Hall makes a guest appearance on the album, as do the Oak Ridge Boys , Kathy Mattea , banjo picker J.D. Crowe and steel guitarist Randy Kohrs.
Beth and April Stevens have recorded one prior album as the Stevens Sisters and also appeared on O Sister! The Women’s Bluegrass Collection and another anthology. They grew up in East Tennessee performing and recording with their family band, the Stevens Family. Their new CD is Little by Little (Rounder). Guest artists on the album include Dolly Parton , Mike Henderson, Rob Ickes, Sam Bush, Byron House and Larry Atamanuik.
Austin, Texas, is not usually thought of as a bluegrass town, but Austin’s Meat Purveyors continue to represent the non-scholarly, goodtime wing of bluegrass music. Part Ratt, part Ralph Stanley , they have drawn a certain audience. Now, after a breakup, they’re back with their third album All Relationships Are Doomed to Fail (Bloodshot). They cover Ratt’s “Round and Round,” as well as Abba’s “S.O.S.”
In the scholarly area of bluegrass, meanwhile, Smithsonian Folkways Records releases the collection Classic Bluegrass. It features 25 songs by a number of artists, including the Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe , the Stoney Mountain Boys, the Lonesome Strangers, Snuffy Jenkins, Mike Lilly, the Johnson Mountain Boys, Hugh Moore and Smiley Hobbs.
The group Wilco was formed by Jeff Tweedy after his influential alt-country group Uncle Tupelo disbanded in 1994. Last year Wilco were still under contract to Reprise Records, but when label executives heard what became Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, they asked the group to drastically change it. Wilco refused and Reprise dropped the group, selling them these master tapes for $50,000. Wilco then — to audition the tapes to other labels and to keep their fans informed — streamed the entire album on its website. Now the album is out on Nonesuch and is drawing comparisons to Radiohead.
James Talley became an acclaimed singer-songwriter in Nashville in the 1970s with such major label albums as Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, But We Sure Got a Lot of Love. His sociological songs drew comparisons to Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Talley played at Jimmy Carter’s inauguration and twice at the White House but didn’t sell a lot of records. He has been working as a realtor in Nashville, now and then making very well-crafted albums. The latest is Touchstones (Cimarron). It includes re-recordings of some of his songs from his 70s albums. Included are “Are They Gonna Make Us Outlaws Again?,” “What Will There Be for the Children?,” “Tryin’ Like the Devil” and “Up From Georgia.”
Like Talley, Darden Smith is a thoughtful singer-songwriter whose critical acclaim and lack of mass commercial appeal resulted in his being dropped by a major Nashville record label. He writes and sings in Austin, where he wrote the symphonic work Grand Motion for the Austin Symphony Orchestra. His latest collection of songs is Sunflower (Dualtone). Kim Richey and Patty Griffin are guest vocalists.