Haggard, Flatlanders, Chesnutt Lead Wave of New Releases

A dozen new albums and half a dozen reissues crowd the shelves of new country releases this week. Among new works are albums from Merle Haggard , Mark Chesnutt , Doyle Lawson and the Bellamy Brothers ; debut albums by the groups Emerson Drive and Little Big Town, a comeback for McBride & the Ride , a second work by Hayseed Dixie, a live Ronnie Milsap CD, the return of noted singer-songwriters Amy Rigby and Mike Ireland and The Flatlanders’ first studio album in 30 years.

In 1972, Joe Ely , Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore went into a Nashville studio to cut what became The Flatlanders’ first album, More a Legend Than a Band. It was long available only in 8-track tape format and was finally released by Rounder. Along the way, the solo careers of each of the Flatlanders escalated and — although they did occasionally perform together — they didn’t have the chance to record together again. They tested the waters with a brief studio reunion in 1998 to record the song “South Wind of Summer” for the soundtrack to the movie The Horse Whisperer. Finally, they reunited in an Austin studio for the new album Now Again (New West). They are joined by guitarist Mitch Watkins on 13 new songs, most of them penned as a group effort by The Flatlanders. Gilmore is often referred to as the heart of The Flatlanders, Hancock as the brains and Ely as the muscle of the group. Together, they amount to a mighty fine little supergroup.

Haggard spent time in Nashville during the late 90s working on a pet project that became the new The Peer Sessions (Audium). He picked favorite songs from the historic Peer Music song catalog and recorded them at Bradley’s Barn with the late producer Owen Bradley sometimes playing piano. He draws upon the work of such pioneers as Bob Wills , Floyd Tillman , Jimmie Rodgers and Jimmie Davis for songs such as Rodgers’ “Miss the Mississippi and You.” Davis — then 99 years old — joined Haggard on Davis’ “Hang On to the Memories.”

The young, traditional-leaning singer Chesnutt returns with a self-titled album on Columbia Nashville. Veteran producer Billy Joe Walker Jr. guides Chesnutt through 11 cuts, including the current single “She Was,” which is at No. 27 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.

The new group Emerson Drive debuts with a self-titled album on DreamWorks Nashville. It includes their current single, “I Should Be Sleeping,” which is at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.

Another emerging new group is the quartet Little Big Town, whose debut self-titled album releases on Monument. Veteran producer Blake Chancey shares production duties with the group. Little Big Town’s current single, “Don’t Waste My Time,” is at No. 34 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.

After a hiatus of seven years, Terry McBride and bandmates Ray Herndon and Billy Thomas return with the new McBride & the Ride album Amarillo Sky (Dualtone). The album includes a whimsical cover version of The Who’s “Squeezebox.”

The eclectic Nashville bluegrass outfit known as Hayseed Dixie covered the songs of AC/DC on their debut album. Now, they’re back with A Hillbilly Tribute to Mountain Love (Dualtone). This time, they take on songs from pop artists — songs ranging from “Cat Scratch Fever” to “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “My Best Friend’s Girl.”

Milsap, well-known for his spirited live concerts, releases Live (Image Entertainment). The 15 cuts, including two medleys, were recorded at the Biloxi Grand Theatre in Biloxi, Miss.

In 1998, Ireland drew acclaim for his writing and singing on his solo debut, Learning How to Live. He also attracted a considerable following on the Grand Ole Opry. Now he returns, with his group Holler, with Try Again (Ashmont). It’s another collection of original Ireland compositions, except for his inclusion of Charlie Rich ’s “Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs,” which has become a concert staple for Ireland.

New York-to-Nashville singer-songwriter Rigby has been gaining attention since her 1996 solo debut Diary of a Mod Housewife. Now she’s back with her fourth album, 18 Again: An Anthology (Koch). It’s a collection of songs from her first three albums, along with a demo version of “Magicians” and the previously unreleased “Keep It to Yourself.”

The eclectic duo the Bellamy Brothers return with Redneck Girls Forever (Bellamy Brothers). Songs range from the title track to the 9/11-themed “Let’s Roll America” and the nostalgia-tinged “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Bluegrass veteran Lawson returns with the solo effort Tennessee Dream (Rebel). Songs include “Georgia Cracker,” “Old Virginia Waltz” and “Five Miles to Winchester.”

Reissue albums this week gather material from Johnny Cash , Charlie Daniels , Loretta Lynn , Roger Miller , the Sons of the Pioneers and Jeannie C. Riley .

Cash’s 20th Century Masters: The Millennium (Mercury) includes such songs as “The Night Hank Williams Came to Town” and “Long Black Veil.” The two-CD The Ultimate Charlie Daniels (Legacy) includes many of Daniels’ hits, such as “Uneasy Rider” and “Still in Saigon.” Lynn’s All Time Greatest Hits (MCA Nashville) includes such Lynn favorites as “Rated X” and “Fist City.” Many of Miller’s finest songs are gathered on Classics (Varese Vintage), including “Dang Me” and “England Swings.” Riley’s famous “Harper Valley P.T.A.” and other hits are featured on The Very Best of Jeannie C. Riley (Varese Vintage). The classic harmonies of the Sons of the Pioneers on such songs as “Empty Saddles” and “Cool Water” return on Ultimate Collection (Hip-O). Other Sons songs are packaged on Cigareets, Whusky … And Cool, Cool Water (ASV).