Don’t cry about Faith Hill ’s latest album straying far from country. Other artists with worthwhile new records — Tammy Cochran , Randy Travis , Cledus T. Judd and Buddy Miller — should keep the more traditional country fans satisfied.
No, that’s not a revved-up Pepsi ad that opens Hill’s album Cry (Warner Bros.). It’s a dance number called “Free” that sets the pace for the superstar’s follow-up to 1999’s Breathe. Power ballad junkies may love the first half of Cry and gospel acolytes might dig the second half. Country purists will likely hate the whole thing. Co-produced by Hill, Cry relies heavily on songs about people fighting for an identity and looking to others to help them find it. Yet, the stunning singer tackles even the blandest lyrics — and there are plenty — with confidence. Sorry, no Tim McGraw duets.
Tammy Cochran’s newest hit, “Life Happened,” finds her bumping into old friends and attending a class reunion at the Holiday Inn. It’s a highlight of her sturdy second album, Life Happened (Epic), which finds the Ohio native stepping out as a worthy songwriter on four cuts. “Dead of the Night” recalls the bloody encounters of “The Thunder Rolls” and “The Nights the Lights Went Out in Georgia.” Her very first single, “If You Can,” closes the album, which would do Tammy Wynette proud, as a bonus track.
Cledus T. Judd’s Cledus Navidad (Monument) puts the ha-ha-ha in the holidays. The song titles should let you know exactly what you’re getting into: “Cledus’ Christmas Ball,” “Stephon the Alternative Lifestyle Reindeer,” “Don’t Serve Beans” and “Tree’s On Fire,” a parody of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” If that wasn’t enough, Judd also gets funky on the rap send-up “All I Want for Christmas Is Two Gold Front Teef.”
On the other end of the spiritual spectrum, Randy Travis says a little prayer for Rise and Shine (Word), his second religious album. Co-writing six of the 11 tracks, Travis will continue to perform in churches, which he says sometimes brings in people that wouldn’t otherwise go to church. His first album of faith, 2000’s Inspirational Journey, won two Dove awards, the Gospel Music Association’s highest honor. Kyle Lehning produced.
Emmylou Harris and Lee Ann Womack lend their voices to Buddy Miller’s fourth solo album, Midnight and Lonesome (Hightone). It’s an unusual but enchanting blend of material, united by Miller’s plaintive, ragged voice. His wife, Julie Miller, writes and sings throughout the album too. Her song “Quecreek,” written about the Pennsylvania coal miners on the July morning of their rescue, closes the album.
Christmas on the Mountain (Universal South) should fill bluegrass fans with good cheer. Del McCoury rings true with “Blue Christmas” and the Osborne Brothers chime in with “Christmas Time on Rocky Top.” Doc Watson , Mac Wiseman , Tim O’Brien and Cyndi Wheeler also appear. The album is dedicated to the late Dobro player Gene Wooten, who had played on one of the tracks here, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”