Given the torrent of forthcoming albums to check out, country music fans might have been better off taking their vacations this fall. There simply aren’t enough lunch breaks and weekends left between now and Christmas in which to sift through all the new titles. Ah, the perils of profusion! Maybe this will help.
Making its debut today is Pam Tillis ’ It’s All Relative: Tillis Sings Tillis (on Epic/Lucky Dog), a memory stirring homage to her songwriting father, Mel . The 13-cut album features bright reworkings of such old-familiars as “Burning Memories,” “Detroit City,” “I Ain’t Never,” “Honey, Open That Door” and “Mental Revenge” (a delightfully small-minded ditty that could teach Toby Keith a thing or two about harboring resentments). Sweetening the deal are guest appearances by Dolly Parton , Emmylou Harris , Trisha Yearwood , Rhonda Vincent , the Jordanaires, Ray Benson (of Asleep at the Wheel), Marty Stuart and Delbert McClinton.
The year-end’s biggest blockbusters are likely to be the albums from Faith Hill , LeAnn Rimes and Shania Twain . First out will be Rimes’ Twisted Angel (Curb) on Oct. 1, little of which — other than its pop-orientation — has been revealed. Hill will follow with Cry (Warner Bros.) on Oct. 15. She will preview music from the album on Saturday Night Live Oct. 12. Twain’s triumphantly titled Up! (Mercury) is set to hit store shelves Nov. 12 and will reportedly contain a whopping 19 new songs, all of which the singer co-wrote with her producer/husband, Mutt Lange.
Tim McGraw ’s new album on Curb Records is due Nov. 26. No title for this one yet, but the album release will coincide with the publication of McGraw’s first book. The book has been described as a “photo album/fanzine” that provides a behind-the-scenes look at his life at home and on the road. Earlier this year, McGraw signed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster.
Students of traditional country music have a lot to look forward to during the next several weeks. Shell Point Records will present Unplugged, its second album by new Country Music Hall of Fame member Porter Wagoner , on Sept. 10. The label will also release Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time ’s Songs From the Workbench on the same day. Wagoner’s guests on his acoustic outing are the ageless Willie Nelson and former Wagonmaster Don Warden. Among the standards Wagoner resurrects are “(Why Don’t You) Haul Off and Love Me,” “I Cried Again,” “The Girl in the Blue Velvet Band” and Nelson’s own “Family Bible.” The Cordle collection is the bluegrasser’s first since his cage-rattling Murder on Music Row came out in 1999.
On Sept. 17, RCA Victor will bow the Chieftains’ guest-glittery collection, Down the Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions. Herein, the legendary Irish band blends its voices and instruments with those of Ricky Skaggs , Vince Gill , Alison Krauss , Lyle Lovett , Patty Griffin, John Hiatt , Martina McBride , Bela Fleck, Earl Scruggs, Buddy and Julie Miller, Del McCoury , Gillian Welch and David Rawlings and Jeff White. Gill turns in a chilling version of the Merle Travis ’ classic, “Dark as a Dungeon,” while McBride is equally affecting on the ancient weeper, “I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight.” Welch and Rawlings recall the crystalline harmonies of the Blue Sky Boys in the grim ballad “Katy Dear.” But perhaps the most satisfying cut on the record is the extended all-hands jam on “Give the Fiddler a Dram.”
The guys who started all this musical cross-pollinating — the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band — will be back on Oct. 1 with their latest such in-studio festival, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. 3 (Capitol). This nostalgic roundup features some of the guests artists who appeared on the first Circle project in 1972 (the second was in 1989), notably Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson , Vassar Clements and Jimmy Martin. Chiming in on this newest edition are Del McCoury, June Carter, Johnny Cash , Iris DeMent , Dwight Yoakam , Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Taj Mahal, Matraca Berg , Randy Scruggs and Vince Gill. Krauss’ gossamer cover of Johnny Russell ’s 1972 hit, “Catfish John,” is spellbinding. McCoury elevates earnestness into an art form on “Take Me in the Lifeboat.”
There seems to be no dimming of the Johnny Cash cachet. In addition to Columbia’s release last week of four historical Cash albums, there are two more all-star salutes in the pipeline, plus a new package from the Man himself. Coming Sept. 17 is Dressed in Black: A Tribute to Johnny Cash (Dualtone), followed a week later by Kindred Spirit: A Tribute to the Music of Johnny Cash (Lucky Dog/Sony). The former has covers of Cash hits by such alt.country personalities as Robbie Fulks , Rosie Flores , Dale Watson , Chris Knight, Hank Williams III and Raul Malo. There are two fine duets — Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis ’ “Pack Up Your Sorrows” and Mandy Barnett and Chuck Mead’s “Jackson.” Kindred Spirit boasts more star power, with Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt , Steve Earle , Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow and others retreading the hits.
On Nov. 5, American Recordings will release American IV: The Man Comes Around, in which Cash sings three of his own new compositions and covers of “In My Life,” “Desperado,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Streets of Laredo,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Danny Boy” and “We’ll Met Again,” as well as renderings of the more contemporary “Hurt” (Nine Inch Nails), “Personal Jesus” (Depeche Mode) and “I Hung My Head” (Sting). Assisting Cash in this estimable enterprise are guest vocalists Don Henley, Nick Cave and Fiona Apple.
Cash’s labelmate from his Sun Records days, Elvis Presley, is being memorialized on Sept. 24 by the release of Elvis: 30 #1 Hits (RCA), a collection that includes the JXL 2002 remix of “A Little Less Conversation.”
A number of performers who made their chart debuts between the late ’70s and middle ’90s are also serving up new albums. In this group are John Anderson , whose Anthology is due out on Audium Records Oct. 8; Randy Travis , Rise and Shine, a gospel album with six of his own original songs, on Word, Oct. 1; Travis Tritt, Strong Enough, Columbia, Sept. 24; Aaron Tippin , Stars & Stripes, Lyric Street, Sept. 10; Steve Earle, Jerusalem, E-Squared/Artemis, Sept. 24 (contains the controversial “American Taliban” rumination, “John Walker’s Blues”); Doug Stone , The Long Way, which features a version of his first hit, “I’d Be Better Off (In a Pine Box),” Audium, Sept. 24; John Michael Montgomery , Pictures, Warner Bros., Oct. 8; Radney Foster , Another Way to Go, Dualtone, Sept. 10; and Kim Richey , Rise, Lost Highway, Oct. 1.
Upcoming albums by newer artists include Cross Canadian Ragweed, a group making its self-titled album debut on Universal South, Sept. 10; Rebecca Lynn Howard , Forgive, MCA, Sept. 10; Mountain Heart, No Other Way, Skaggs Family, Sept. 17; Keith Urban , Golden Road, Capitol, Oct. 8; Pinmonkey, Pinmonkey, BNA, Oct. 8; Jameson Clark, Workin’ On a Groove, Capitol, Oct. 8; Tammy Cochran , Life Happened, Epic, Oct. 15 (includes her first single “If You Can”); and Rascal Flatts , Melt, Lyric Street, Oct. 29.
And we haven’t even mentioned Christmas albums.