What a beautiful day for fans of Texas music as George Jones and Willie Nelson find room on the racks along with Ray Wylie Hubbard and Chris Cagle . And nothing says country music quite like Mickey Mouse.
Don’t pass over Jones’ The Gospel Collection (BNA) simply because you don’t want to listen to hymns at home. Instead, count your blessings that Jones has lived long enough to release this inspiring 2-CD set with material ranging from “Amazing Grace” to “Why Me Lord.” Though most country artists would crucify these standards with oversinging and more strings than an angel band, Jones lets the message shine. Of course, this wouldn’t be a true Southern gospel album without Vestal Goodman, who warbles her way through “Mansion Over the Hilltop.”
The Essential Willie Nelson (Legacy/Columbia) salutes the legend’s upcoming 70th birthday. Spanning from 1961’s “Night Life” to 2002’s “Mendocino County Line,” this impressive 2-CD set features music from nine record labels and duets aplenty. With so many classics to his credit, it’s no wonder his concerts still go on for hours at a time. Look for reissues of eight of Nelson’s studio albums throughout the spring and summer.
Country fans who can’t get enough love songs will be tickled with Chris Cagle (Capitol Nashville). Falling in love, finding love, jumping off the roof for love — it’s all here. Plus, the “I love everything about you” song and two “your love makes me crazy” songs. After that, it’s “Growin’ Love” and “Just Love Me” and the not-bad “Look at What I’ve Done,” which is about … love! More specifically, it’s about a girl he dumped who somehow gained confidence after the relationship ended. And now he thinks he still might love her. No, really.
Hubbard titled his new album Growl (Philo), and that pretty much sums it up. Best known for writing the Texas country classic “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” Hubbard has grown quite prolific and poetic in the past few years. Growl digs in the dirt more than past efforts (1999’s Crusades of the Restless Nights is especially good), but luckily the voice suits the material here. Still, not too many bluesmen would conclude an album with a playful song called “Screw You, We’re From Texas.”
Fans of Kasey Chambers will want to buy the new album from the Waifs, Up All Night (Jarrah). Familiar to folk festivals in the United States, this winning Australian trio offers rolling melodies with a tinge of melancholy. But what makes the album so comforting? Maybe it’s the rich harmony of sisters Vicki and Donna Simpson or the tender songwriting of Joshua Cunningham. Whatever it is, Up All Night is worth seeking out. And hey, there’s even a song about Austin, Texas!
This bluegrass thing has officially gotten out of hand with the arrival of O Mickey, Where Art Thou? (Walt Disney). Unearthing tunes from Disney’s cartoons through the years, an A-list of studio musicians transform them with banjos and fiddles. Collin Raye contributes “Circle of Life” with an uncredited “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” serving as an instrumental intro. Grand Ole Opry members Stonewall Jackson , Charlie Louvin and Ronnie Milsap lend their talents as well. Kids might enjoy listening to this one over and over and over. Parents, you’ve been warned.
Other noteworthy reissues and collections: June Carter Cash ’s Grammy-winning Press On (Dualtone), Essential packages from Joe Diffie (Epic/Legacy) and Ricky Skaggs (Epic/Legacy) and Asleep at the Wheel ’s 20 Greatest Hits (Capitol/EMI).