HOT TALK: Dolly Harmonizes, Tracy Stays Put

(HOT TALK is a weekly column by longtime CMT.com contributing writer and former Billboard country music editor Edward Morris.)

Dolly Parton Sweetens the Larkins’ Debut
Dolly Parton has just recorded a song with the Larkins for the bluegrass duo’s still-untitled debut album for Koch-Audium Records. That figures when you consider the Larkins are coming into their eighth year as performers at Dollywood theme park in East Tennessee. The song in question is Dolly’s own “Steady as the Rain,” which appeared on her first bluegrass collection, The Grass Is Blue. Normally, the Larkins are a family quartet made up of mom Barbara, dad Lowell and daughters Tina and Shaunna. But the daughters are going it alone on the Koch-Audium project. If you ever get the chance to watch these two beauties doing their fancy picking and staccato clogging, you’ll get an idea of why the term “little darlin’” is such a bluegrass staple. A publicist for the label describes the album as both bluegrass and country. Produced by steel-guitar wizard and songwriter Bruce Bouton, the album is tagged for a July release.

Stars Sign Up for Chely Wright’s Pet Cause
Terri Clark , Clay Walker and Aaron Lines are among the artists confirmed to join Chely Wright for her Fan Fair benefit show for the Reading, Writing & Rhythm Foundation. The event will be held June 3 at the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville. Tickets will go on sale at the Wildhorse box-office in early February. Last year’s efforts reportedly raised more than $110,000 for the charity. Mark Jones, Wright’s manager at TBA Entertainment, says the former MCA and Polydor artist is mulling over a couple of possible record deals and should be making a decision on where to land soon.

Tracy Lawrence Staying Put
A story going around Music Row says that Tracy Lawrence is moving from Warner Bros. to DreamWorks Records. Not so, say his producer and his publicist. The rumor may have started because Lawrence has reunited with producer James Stroud for his next album. Besides being the guy who masterminded Lawrence’s biggest hits, Stroud also heads DreamWorks’ Nashville division.

Emmylou Shines for Film Folks
Our man in Park City, Utah, reports that Emmylou Harris dazzled a packed house during her opening appearance Jan. 19 at the Sundance Film Festival. Harris was part of a musical team put together by ASCAP, the performance rights society, to entertain the horde of festival-goers. As the biggest country music name on the bill, Harris did seven songs, six of which were accompanied by her frequent performing partner, singer-songwriter Buddy Miller , and one by her former producer, Daniel Lanois. Among the set’s highlight: “Red Dirt Girl,” “Michelangelo,” “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It Now” and “Sweet Old World.”

Since You Asked: Johnny Paycheck Out, Clint Daniels In
Readers have inquired on the whereabouts of Grand Ole Opry member Johnny Paycheck and former Arista Records upstart Clint Daniels. Here’s the word. Marty Martel, Paycheck’s manager for many years, tells Hot Talk, “He is still hospitalized. He has asthma and emphysema and probably will not tour or record again. He always tells me to be sure and thank his fans for their prayers and support.”

Daniels’ manager, Donny Kees, says that the singer has been signed to Sony’s Monument Records label and is working on an album with producer Blake Chancey. “We’ve got an album that’s pretty close to being finished,” Kees notes, “and I think they’re going to go ahead and put a single out [soon].” Daniels has continued to tour during the lull between labels.

Apply Here for the Regie Hamm Fan Club
If you’ve heard Tracy Byrd ’s current single, “Lately (Been Dreamin’ ‘Bout Babies),” you already know something about Regie Hamm. He wrote the song. But here’s predicting you’ll be hearing a lot more about him after March 18. That’s when Universal South unleashes Hamm’s wildly inventive album, American Dreams. In true superman fashion, Hamm wrote all 13 songs on the album and produced and paid for it himself. It’s clearly his baby, but Universal South deserves a lot of credit for giving the baby a home. Music biz protocol says you don’t talk much about an album until fans can buy it. But Hamm’s stuff is so good, it merits an early celebration.

Every song on American Dreams is a gem of observation and style, even if you don’t agree with all of their premises. Hamm has the jaundiced eye of a stand-up comic and the verbal flourish of a first-rate poet, a combination on full display in his riotously frank and funny “Infidels.” The song is probably too feather-ruffling to be played by anyone on radio except drive-time jocks. But it brings some much-needed humor to a topic anger won’t alleviate. Dropping virtually every big name in 50 years of pop culture (including that of the dyspeptic magistrate, Robert Bork), Hamm warns holy terrorists that Americans are even crazier than they are: “Now do you really want to take a whiff/of the home of Jeffrey Dahmer and Susan Smith/You know we’ll kill you, eat you and blame it somebody else.” Quick! Get a copy to Tom Ridge.

I Like It, I Love It, So What’s Your Problem?
Hot Talk readers are fierce in their musical tastes — and damn near rabid when it comes to mine. A few tore their hair and rolled in the ashes because I opined that Reba McEntire ’s For My Broken Heart is the best country album ever made. “Oh, yeah,” snaps one sarcastic voice, “it is better than [Willie Nelson ’s] Red Headed Stranger, [article id="330"]Johnny Cash[/article] At Folsom Prison or even [Randy Travis ’] Storms of Life. … Now nothing you ever have written or will write will mean a hill of beans.”

I barely had time to apply a tourniquet before another shot rang out. “Reba? How can you even mention her in the same breath as Hag and Hank? You’ve just lost a lot of hillbilly credibility with me.” Ouch!

Let me propose a basic critical tenet: Everyone has enough sense to know what kind of music he or she likes. So why fret if other people like something else? Appreciation isn’t a science. We don’t come by our musical preferences as an act of reason. At certain times — when we’re happy or sad, young or old, mired in defeat or preening in triumph — we’ll hear a song that so precisely capsulizes our mood of the moment that we’ll spend the rest of our lives explaining why it represents aesthetic perfection. At bottom, though, it’s just something we happen to like. And that’s enough.

It’s still cold in Nashville. So warm me with your gossip, your questions and your froth-flecked tirades. I’m waiting at HotTalk@cmt.com