HOT TALK: Tim Produces, Alison Sings

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

Lee Ann Womack Sings for the Prez
It’s all been very hush hush, but her management office confirms that Lee Ann Womack sang for President Bush, his cabinet members and various other high-level Republican party officials this past weekend at the posh Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia. Womack’s small backup band for the event included producer and Universal South co-chair Tony Brown and Ilya Toshinsky of the group Bering Strait.

Tim McGraw Will Produce Warren Brothers
Within the next couple of weeks, Tim McGraw will be returning to the studio with Byron Gallimore to co-produce demo tracks for the Warren Brothers . “I’m a big fan,” McGraw says. “I really think they’re good artists and some of the best songwriters that we’ve got in the business.” Although the Warrens have officially left RCA Records, a spokesman for the label says these new recordings might bring them back. Between 1998 and 2001, the Warrens charted with “Guilty,” “Better Man,” “That’s the Beat of a Heart” (with Sara Evans ), “Move On” and “Where Does It Hurt.”

Alison Krauss Guests on Rhonda Vincent’s New Album

Fresh from sweeping up another armload of bluegrass awards, Rhonda Vincent slowed down long enough to brief Hot Talk on her new album. Due out in April, it’s called One Step Ahead and will feature duets with Alison Krauss and young fiddler Molly Cherry Holmes (who, Vincent says, reminds her of Krauss as a kid). Vincent previewed two songs from the album at the recent Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America Awards Show — a hard-driving train song, “Kentucky Border Line,” and a majestic a cappella hymn, “Fishers of Men.” The duet with Krauss is “One Step Ahead of the Blues.”

Also on the album is a freshly penned tribute to legendary bluegrass music sponsor Martha White Flour. Vincent co-wrote the promo paean with Terry Herd and says she hopes it will become a company theme song. Vincent’s SPBGMA wins were for entertainer of the year, best overall bluegrass band and best contemporary female vocalist. “Is the Grass Any Bluer,” which she recorded, was named song of the year, and Hunter Berry, a member of her band, was picked as best fiddler.

Bluegrass Association Moving Across the Street From CMA
The International Bluegrass Music Association makes its move from Owensboro, Ky. to Nashville later this month. Its new offices will be located at 2 Music Circle South, also known as the Joe Talbot Building, which is located directly across the street from the Country Music Association headquarters

Rooney Back in Town for Guthrie Celebration
Spotted among the celebs at last week’s tribute concert in Nashville for Woody Guthrie was producer and picker Jim Rooney. Rooney says he been living for part of the year in Ireland and occasionally returning to Nashville to perform at the Station Inn — a bluegrass landmark — with his band, Rooney’s Irregulars. He’s also started producing a gospel album on Iris DeMent. Rooney has been studio mentor to some of the country’s top singer-songwriters, including John Prine, Townes Van Zandt and Jerry Jeff Walker. Other Voices, Other Rooms, an album he produced for Nanci Griffith , won a best contemporary folk Grammy in 1993.

Hillbilly Heaven: Free Breakfast and a George Strait Tune
It was a Bloody Mary morning considerably cheerier than the one Willie Nelson revealed in his 1974 lament. Freeloaders of all ranks and temperaments swarmed to the BMI building on Music Row last Wednesday morning (Feb. 5) to toast the chart-topping success of George Strait ’s “She’ll Leave You With a Smile.” But judging from the locust-like clusters around the bar and breakfast table, the real draw was the bacon and booze.

After seeing to it that nary a crumb or drop lay wasted, the crowd turned its glazed attention to the song’s writers, Jay Knowles and Odie Blackmon. Knowles grasped a portable microphone and beamed, “Oh, mercy. Like Tom Jones. I want to welcome you to the prayer breakfast this morning, a fine Southern tradition.” He explained later that the hit song — Strait’s 50th No. 1 — grew from a title Blackmon came up with. “We wrote it to be kind of rock ’n’ roll — like Chuck Berry or British pop,” Knowles said. “But when we started to demo it, it all changed.”

Publisher Woody Bomar told the well-wishers, “I’m happy to have signed Jay to his first publishing deal and — a mere nine years later — to present him with his first No. 1 song award.” Knowles is the son of guitarist John Knowles, an expert in the Chet Atkins style of picking and the author of several instructional books on the guitar.

Cracker Barrel Chain Launches Heritage Label
Working with the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurant and gift-shop chain has launched its own Heritage record label to celebrate regionally-inspired music. To date, the chain has released 15 titles that embrace country, bluegrass, western swing, honky tonk, Southern gospel, Irish, Cajun, native American, Mexican, New Orleans jazz and sacred steel. Some of the music has been leased from other record companies, but most was specifically recorded for the label.

Artists involved in the series whose names are familiar to country and bluegrass fans are Asleep at the Wheel , the Seldom Scene and J. D. Crowe & The New South. East Tennessee country artist Linda Lay has an especially listenable package called Linda’s Mercantile Store. With its cover versions of such hits as “We Could,” “Mansion on the Hill,” “Just Someone I Used to Know,” “Rose of My Heart” and “Today I Started Loving You Again,” it’s a delightful one-volume intro to the glories of traditional country.

Other Heritage titles include recordings by Cephas & Wiggins, Robert “Tree” Cody, the Stony Point Quartet, Bill Kirchen, Winifred Horan, Bob French’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, the Balfa Brothers and the Birmingham Sunlights.

Cracker Barrel spokeswoman Julie Davis says the series is being tested in 50 stores and will probably roll out to all 469 stores in 49 states in May. The albums, which sell for $11.99 each, are displayed in listening kiosks at the stores. They are also being sold online. NCTA director Joe Wilson is serving as the label’s A&R (artist and repertoire) rep.


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Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to