HOT TALK: New Music and One Discontented Pony

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

Reba’s Writing Songs, Eying Another Album
Apart from her TV series, Reba McEntire has been writing songs with Carole King and Gary Burr and looking toward recording a new album. Trisha McClanahan, vice president of marketing for McEntire’s Starstruck Entertainment, reports that the trio has written three songs so far. “She’s [also] listening to other songs right now. Her hope is to record an album this summer. But we don’t have dates or a producer yet.”

Tim McGraw: One for the Books
Tim McGraw isn’t just selling a lot of records and concert tickets. He’s moving tons of books too. His Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors: This Is Ours has sold, according to his publisher, “just over 200,000” copies since the book went on sale Nov. 26.

Patty Loveless Turning Back to Country on Next Album
After a delightful detour into bluegrass music with her Mountain Soul and Bluegrass & White Snow collections, Patty Loveless is returning to country music for her next album, as yet untitled. She continues to be produced by her husband, Emory Gordy Jr. The project will be completed within the next week or so and is expected to be out this summer. Loveless will resume touring in mid-May.

The Gospel According to George
George Jones ’ much-awaited gospel collaboration with his old producer, Billy Sherrill, is due out April 1. (This isn’t an April Fool’s joke. April 1 falls on Tuesday, the day of the week albums are customarily released.) The album will be titled either George Jones Sings the Greatest Stories Ever Told or George Jones: The Gospel Collection. Gospel great Vestal Goodman and pop queen Patti Page guest on the album, with Page joining the Possum for “Precious Memories.”

Pony Expressing
Trick Pony ’s Ira Dean has been publicly bad-mouthing Warner Bros. Records around Music Row, complaining that the label hasn’t sold enough copies of the trio’s second album, On a Mission. It was released Nov. 5 and has to date sold 118,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Department of Non-News: Trisha Resting, Tracy Tequila Free
“There’s really nothing to report,” a spokesman for Trisha Yearwood ’s manager tells Hot Talk. “She’s just taking some time off. There’s no current plan for her to record.” The spokesman said he wasn’t aware of the persistent rumor that Yearwood might be leaving MCA Records, her home label for the past 12 years. Meanwhile Tracy Byrd ’s management company says the singer’s hoped for sponsorship deal with Jose Cuervo probably won’t happen. Byrd’s potential tie-in with the tequila maker became a real possibility after his ultra-festive single, “Ten Rounds With Jose Cuervo,” went No. 1.

Old Music in New Packages
If you’re filling gaps in your country music library, please note that Sony’s Legacy imprint will release four more albums of repackaged music March 11 in its “Essential” series. The artists featured on this rollout are Joe Diffie , Ricky Skaggs , Willie Nelson and Chet Atkins . Also in stores the same day from Epic Records, Mickey Gilley ’s 16 Biggest Hits.

Hit Songwriter Darrell Scott, Others Perform for Folk Convention
Super-songwriter Darrell Scott (“Long Time Gone,” “Born to Fly,” “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive,” “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? alumnus Colin Linden are among the artists who’ll be showcasing this week during the 15th annual Folk Alliance Conference at the Nashville Convention Center. Others on the bill are David Olney, guitarist Peter Huttlinger, Trisha Walker and Victor Mecyssne, Thom Schuyler and Fred Knobloch and Jonell Mosser, Gary Nicholson and Jon Hall. Also during the conference, lifetime achievement awards will be conferred on Ralph Stanley , the late Rev. Gary Davis and Sing Out! magazine.

Jeanne Pruett Explains Opry Absence
“Tell them I’m taking maternity leave.” That’s the message Grand Ole Opry star Jeanne Pruett zapped back through her booking agent, Joe Taylor, when Hot Talk called on behalf of a reader to inquire why Pruett hasn’t played the Opry for several months. It turns out that the 66-year-old singer, best known for her 1973 hit, “Satin Sheets,” is neither expecting nor suffering vocal problems as rumored. “She said,” Taylor continued, “that there were some other things she wanted to do, including spending more time at home.” A spokesman for the Opry confirms that Pruett has not put her name on the “available” list for some time. No word on when she might return.

Nashville’s Stock-Yard Restaurant Inspires Cookbook
There’s a new cookbook out that celebrates the history and cuisine of Nashville’s posh Stock-Yard restaurant, a favorite watering hole for tourists and music biz types for the past 24 years. Called Savor the Moment at the Stock-Yard Restaurant, the brightly illustrated tome was written and compiled by Linda Fricks, who owns the eatery with her husband, Wayne. Besides its more than 200 recipes, the book provides a brief account, supplemented with historic photos, of how the restaurant came into being. It also contains pictures and profiles of the staff, including a page on the longtime and always colorful security guard, Tex.

Magazine Chronicles the Hours After Hank Williams’ Death
Fans of the great Hank Williams will want to snag a copy of the winter 2002 issue of Goldenseal, a magazine that covers West Virginia history and cultural life. Williams was found dead in the back of his car in the town of Oak Hill, W.Va., the morning of Jan. 1, 1953. Goldenseal devotes 12 pages of text and photos to the event. For her story, “I Won’t Be Home No More,” author Maura Kistler interviewed, among others, Charles Carr, Williams’ driver; Howard Janney, the local cop who pronounced Williams dead; and Joe Tyree, the Oak Hill undertaker who examined and displayed the singer’s body for authorities and then drove it back to Montgomery, Ala., at the request of Williams’ mother. There are photos of the death certificate, a fragment of Williams’ handwritten lyrics picked up from the floor of his car, a plaque erected to memorialize the incident, the restaurant Carr had stopped at when he discovered Williams was dead and the Hank Williams Sr. Memorial Bridge over the Bluestone River (with Hank Williams III standing beside it).

Goldenseal editor John Lilly offers a shorter piece, “Hank’s Lost Charleston Show,” which describes the circumstances of the two back-to-back concerts scheduled for Dec. 31 in Charleston, W.Va., that had to be cancelled because of bad weather. Lilly interviewed the show’s promoter, A. V. “Bam” Bamford, and band members Don Helms and Buddy Killen, both of whom were in Charleston waiting for Williams. Illustrating Lilly’s story is a picture of a local newspaper ad that touted the show. It identifies Williams as “the sensational radio-recording star” and “Mr. Lovesick Blues.” On the bill with Williams that night were comedians Homer & Jethro, Hawkshaw Hawkins (who would die 10 years later in a plane crash with Patsy Cline), Autry Inman and fiddler Merle “Red” Taylor. The price for attending this musical extravaganza? $1.85 for adults and 75 cents for kids. Goldenseal is published by the Cultural Center in Charleston.

So What’s The Problem?
I’m puzzled. Rare is the day that someone doesn’t complain to me that traditional country is doomed. It’s not true, of course. Every musical format has pockets of ardent preservationists to keep it breathing. And don’t forget that Alan Jackson is still out there carrying the torch. But let’s say it were true. Let’s say that the “countriest” music you’ll ever hear on radio again are the songs of Faith Hill and Shania Twain . What’s the problem with that? It’s not like the old sounds have vanished. They’re not even hard to find. If you don’t like what you hear on radio, then turn it off and listen to records. It’s not that hard. At last count, there were more than 100 Merle Haggard CDs on the market. And there are probably almost as many editions of Ernest Tubb , Roy Acuff , Bill Monroe , Red Foley , Webb Pierce , Johnny Cash , Merle Travis , Lefty Frizzell and Kitty Wells . Hank Williams CDs virtually hang from the trees for easy picking. Traditional country music isn’t just available in great abundance, it’s fairly cheap to buy. If everyone who’s tempted to write a scorching letter about the decline of country would instead put on a Carl Smith record, then there would be two happier people in the world.

I’m happy to get your letters, though, scorching or silky. Tell me what you know or want to know at