A country foray into the rocking blues of ZZ Top leads a pack of new country albums this week. Also being released are a retrospective package on Johnny PayCheck , Cledus T. Judd ’s latest collection of country parodies, a posthumous album from the late Champ Hood, a hits package from Collin Raye and two bluegrass anthologies.
The compilation Sharp Dressed Men: A Tribute to ZZ Top (RCA) features country artists covering songs from that “little ole band from Texas,” and the results are decidedly mixed. Taking part are Lonestar , Brad Paisley , the Warren Brothers , Trace Adkins , Hank Williams Jr. , Tracy Byrd , Brooks & Dunn , Dwight Yoakam , Andy Griggs , Kenny Chesney , Montgomery Gentry , Phil Vassar , Hank Williams III and Alan Jackson . Songs include “Legs,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “Cheap Sunglasses” and “Tush.”
PayCheck remains one of the more underappreciated traditional artists of recent country history. He was a pivotal force in honky-tonk music and wrote such songs as “Apartment No. 9,” which became Tammy Wynette ’s first hit. Performers as prominent as Merle Haggard have acknowledged his influence although his musical contributions have come to be overshadowed by his stormy personal life and by the huge success of the hit song “Take This Job and Shove It.” His career gets a welcome retrospective with The Soul & The Edge: The Best of Johnny PayCheck (Epic). Songs here include “I’m the Only Hell (My Mama Ever Raised),” “Colorado Cool-Aid,” “(Stay Away From) The Cocaine Train,” “Slide Off of Your Satin Sheets,” and “11 Months and 29 Days.”
Judd continues his parodies of country hits with his seventh CD, Cledus Envy (Monument). This set finds him taking aim at such hits as “Breathe,” “Man of Constant Sorrow” and “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive.” Judd also includes several original songs here: “Willie’s Got a Big Deck,” “If George Strait Starts Dancin’,” “Let’s Burn One” and Judd’s first serious song, “Leave You Laughing,” co-written with Paul Overstreet . Vince Gill adds vocal harmonies on the song.
Bon Haven (South Congress) was the album Hood was working on when cancer finally claimed his life in November. An original member of the influential trio Uncle Walt’s Band (the late Walter Hyatt and David Ball being the two other members), Hood, 49, was widely regarded as one of the best sidemen ever and influenced such fellow artists as Lyle Lovett. The album -– Hood’s only solo effort — was finished by Hood’s 18-year-old son Warren, a violin prodigy, as well as by a contingent of such Austin artists as Marcia Ball and Toni Price.
Super Hits (Epic Nashville) presents 10 of Raye’s past efforts. Songs featured include “Little Rock,” “Couldn’t Last a Moment” and “My Kind of Girl.”
Rounder Records presents a pair of bluegrass anthologies this week. Mama’s Hands: Bluegrass & Mountain Songs would make an excellent Mother’s Day gift –- although the moribund nature of many of the songs dictate that a box of tissues be included with the album. Artists represented include the Blue Sky Boys , Doc Watson , Hazel Dickens , Rhonda Vincent , Alison Krauss & Union Station and the Johnson Mountain Boys. Songs include “I Heard My Mother Weeping,” “If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again,” “I Have No Mother Now,” “Medals for Mothers” and “Rocking Alone in an Old Rocking Chair.”
Bluegrass Goes to Town: Pop Songs Bluegrass Style from the Rounder vaults features attacks on such pop tunes as “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Piece of My Heart,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Blue Bayou.” The musical perpetrators include IIIrd Tyme Out, the late John Hartford , the Cox Family , Claire Lynch and Krauss.