Clark, Other Canadians Lead New Releases

Cowbell-clanging Terri Clark leads the Canadian parade of new country releases with newcomers Aaron Lines and Kathleen Edwards already turning heads for their debuts. From even farther afield, the Soviet Union’s Bering Strait finally completes its arduous journey to record bins.

A few minutes into Pain to Kill (Mercury Nashville), Clark declares that “I Just Wanna Be Mad,” but later she testifies that “I Wanna Do It All,” which includes tequila shots in Tijuana and catching beads at Mardi Gras. (And we all know what you gotta do to earn those beads.) That recklessness may diminish the impact of the alcoholism song immediately afterward, but Clark still shows strength as a songwriter. “Better Than You” is hard country at its finest, made all the better with Vince Gill and Leslie Satcher on harmonies. Single women are especially likely to identify with the lyrics on this album.

Lines earned award nominations as a newcomer in Canada, and he’s already cracked the Top 10 in the U.S. with “You Can’t Hide Beautiful.” Fans of sensitive singers like Andy Griggs and Lonestar should scream for Living Out Loud (BNA), produced by Chris Farren (Deana Carter , Kevin Sharp ). If you long for the late ‘90s with its resplendent electric guitars and lovebird lyrics, this is the album for you.

Although Failer (Zoe) features a mysterious, intriguing groove, the real surprise is how quickly Edwards, 24, is catching on stateside. Already booked for late night visits with David Letterman and Carson Daly, Rolling Stone also picked her as one of 10 artists to watch in 2003. Failer fits in comfortably with fellow Canadian songwriters such as Sarah Harmer and Lynn Miles. Edwards joins Ryan Adams at a New York City benefit for the HIV-infected homeless on Jan. 17.

The Russian bluegrass band Bering Strait finally debuts on Universal South. What!? Russian bluegrass!? Well, they played bluegrass back in Russia, but now — four years, five record labels and an apartment fire later — it’s a seven-piece country band composed of classically trained musicians in their 20s. To my ears, it sounds mostly like long-lost Pat Benatar, but that didn’t prevent a 2003 Grammy nod for best country instrumental (even though the record hadn’t been released yet). Keep an eye out for the accompanying documentary, The Ballad of Bering Strait, which won the Audience Award at the 2002 Washington, D.C., Film Festival.

Legacy Records has repackaged two of country music’s greatest singers for its Love Songs series — you know, the albums with the flowers on the front. You have to wade through at least a dozen forgotten songs to reach the signature tune at the end: George Jones ’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and Tammy Wynette ’s “Stand by Your Man.” In one, the guy is dead; in the other, he’s a deadbeat. Ah, love.