Keith, Dixie Chicks, Womack Lead Summer Releases

Halfway through 2002, country music can boast a couple of major success stories. Alan Jackson issued Drive, with “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” just after the beginning of the year. Six months later, his record company has shipped 2 million copies of the disc. Kenny Chesney ‘s No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems came out in April, and his fans snapped up a million copies in no time.

July marks the beginning of the year’s third quarter, and record companies are hoping it’s not just cherry bombs and bottle rockets that are about to explode. Toby Keith , the Dixie Chicks , Nickel Creek , Dolly Parton and Lee Ann Womack are among the artists looking to make noise with new releases over the next three months.

JULY:

Though it won’t be released until July 23, Toby Keith’s Unleashed (DreamWorks) has caused a furor already with the hit song “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American).” A new video includes parts of his performances on the CMT Flameworthy Video Music Awards and the Academy of Country Music Awards, as well as footage of Keith interacting with American troops overseas. The clip debuts Thursday (July 4) on CMT’s Most Wanted Live — the same day he won’t be singing the song on an ABC special.

Dolly Parton’s Halos & Horns, coming Tuesday (July 9), is the third installment in her acoustic, “blue mountain music” series for Sugar Hill. The new album is notable not only for its covers of “Stairway to Heaven” and Bread’s “If,” but also for inspiring Parton to tour again for the first time in more than 10 years.

Darryl Worley keeps it country on his second album, I Miss My Friend (DreamWorks, July 16). Touring this summer, Worley will perform the hit title track, as well as past favorites like “A Good Day to Run.” He hooks up with Trace Adkins for dates in the fall.

Also Tuesday, Andy Griggs returns with Freedom, boasting the hit song “Tonight I Wanna Be Your Man” Included is the modest hit, “How Cool Is That.” Martina McBride guests on “Practice Life.”

After a try at the charts in 1996 on Intersound, Joe Nichols has hooked up with Universal South, the new label run by Tony Brown and Tim DuBois, former chiefs at MCA Nashville and Arista Nashville, respectively. Nichols has a country hit, “The Impossible,” and will release a CD by that name on July 23. The rest of the album suggests that Nichols is a strong singer-songwriter who has listened to Merle Haggard.

Kathy Mattea gives in to her love for folk and Celtic music on Roses (July 30), her first release for Narada after a long tenure on Mercury. The set includes “Ashes in the Wind,” a tribute to a lost friend, written by her husband, Jon Vezner, and “The Slender Threads That Bind Us Here,” from Mattea and Marcus Hummon.

AUGUST:

August will be hot. The Dixie Chicks hatch a new studio album, the highly anticipated Home, on Aug. 27 (Open Wide/Monument). In addition to “Long Time Gone,” the project revives Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and Bruce Robison’s “Travelin’ Soldier.”

Also on Aug. 27, Lee Ann Womack follows up her 2000 triple-platinum I Hope You Dance with Something Worth Leaving Behind (MCA Nashville). She filmed the video at the Park Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles with Thomas Kloss directing. He was director of photography for the music video “Lady Marmalade,” a pop hit from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack.

Acoustic music favorites Nickel Creek check in with This Side (Sugar Hill, Aug. 13). Alison Krauss returns as producer. The trio — all in their early 20s — will be familiar to CMT viewers from videos for “Reasons Why,” “When You Come Back Down” and “The Lighthouse’s Tale.” They will film a video for the title track next week in Los Angeles.

Rebecca Lynn Howard has cracked the Billboard Top 40 for the first time with “Forgive.” It’s the first single and video from her second album, Forgive (MCA Nashville, Aug. 27). Howard co-wrote the latest Trisha Yearwood single, “I Don’t Paint Myself Into Corners.” The song appears on Howard’s first album.

Also slated for August: Phil Vassar , American Child (Arista Nashville, Aug. 6); Allison Moorer , Miss Fortune (Universal South, Aug. 6); Diamond Rio , Completely (Arista Nashville, Aug. 20); Kelly Willis , Easy (Rykodisc, Aug. 20); Montgomery Gentry , My Town (Columbia, Aug. 27); and BlackHawk , Spirit Dancer (Columbia, Aug. 27).

SEPTEMBER:

Before summer turns to fall, Pam Tillis honors her father, Mel , with It’s All Relative (Epic/Lucky Dog, Sept. 3), a tribute album on which daughter performs dad’s songs exclusively. Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris , Trisha Yearwood, Delbert McClinton and Mr. Tillis himself are among the guests.

Tammy Cochran and Rascal Flatts both have second albums in the works. Cochran’s next, still untitled, comes out Sept. 17 (Epic) and should contain her current hit, “Life Happened.” Rascal Flatts are calling their next album Melt. It comes out Sept. 24 (Lyric Street). Also, look for Travis Tritt ‘s new one, Strong Enough (Columbia, Sept. 24). The title comes from his new single, “Strong Enough to Be Your Man.”

Don’t spend all your dough, though. Before the end of the year, country fans should see blockbuster albums from Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Vince Gill and Alabama.

Jay Orr contributed to this story.

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.