HOT TALK: LeAnn Moving, Sara Grooving

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

LeAnn Rimes Returning to Nashville?
A source close to LeAnn Rimes says the singer is moving back to Nashville from Los Angeles. Dennis Hannon, executive vice president and general manager of Curb Records, Rimes’ label, says he’s also heard the rumor but can’t confirm it.

Sara Evans Treats Kids to Song From Upcoming Album
Sunny Sara Evans visited Vanderbilt Childen’s Hospital in Nashville last Thursday (April 10) to sing to the young patients and spotlight the annual Music City Tennis Invitational, which raises funds for the hospital. Songwriters Marcus Hummon and James Slater accompanied her on the mission.

The kids, arrayed in a semicircle for the show, ranged from infants cradled in their parents’ arms to teenagers sitting alone in wheelchairs. Crouched at a tiny portable piano, Slater kicked off the cheering-up session with “Twist and Shout,” then segued into an occasionally halting “Guantanamera.” “You want to hear something in English?” Evans asked dryly as Hummon strummed the intro to “Born to Fly.” As Evans sang, nurses and visitors moved around the edges of the cramped party room to get a better view of the proceedings. In an office just off the party room, an unattended computer displayed shifting images of George Clooney on its screensaver.

“This is the best piano song ever,” Slater proclaimed to the crowd before barreling through “Great Balls of Fire.” While he did so, the hospital’s costumed mascot, a great ball of fur named Champ, scooted and shimmied to the beat. “If you like country music, you may know this one,” Hummon said modestly by way of introducing “Cowboy Take Me Away,” the hit he wrote for the Dixie Chicks. But Evans was having none of this equivocation. “You do like country music. Right?” she interrupted with mock menace. After singing harmony on “Cowboy,” Evans proceeded to “Rocking Horse,” a pensive, triumph-from-tragedy tune from her forthcoming album, Restless, which is scheduled to debut Aug. 18. Brenner Van Meter, Evans manager, told Hot Talk that Evans co-wrote the song with Hummon and her brother, Matt Evans, and that Vince Gill sings on the recorded version.

Evans and Hummon then led the children in singalongs of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “You Are My Sunshine.” Slater wrapped up the lovefest with “Tutti Frutti” and “Jailhouse Rock.” This is Evan’s second year as the honorary spokesperson for the charity.

Mary Chapin Carpenter Prepping New Album
Like Shania Twain , Mary Chapin Carpenter has been resolute — and successful — in making her own kind of country music. It’s been cerebral, funny, allusive, ironic and decidedly non-rural. And it’s twice won her the Country Music Association’s female vocalist of the year award and yielded her such hits as “Down at the Twist and Shout,” “I Feel Lucky” and “Shut Up and Kiss Me.” I’m happy — nay, ecstatic — to report that she is now warming up to do another album. A publicist for Columbia Records tells me that Carpenter will be co-producing the sessions with pianist Matt Rollings (who also co-produced Keith Urban). Recording is set to start in May, with tracks to be cut in Nashville and vocals and overdubs to be done at the singer’s farm outside Charlottesville, Va. Wait a minute! Chapin on a farm? Now that is country. Columbia plans to release the album this fall.

Hall of Fame to Confer Medallions
Wanna see some stars? Then be at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Sunday, May 4 at around 5 p. m. That’s when the party starts for new and veteran Hall of Fame members and other music biz guests. While the ceremony is not open to the public, the celebs generally show up at the front door of the museum for a leisurely walk along the red carpet. The purpose of this annual get-together is to confer medallions on the newest members of the Hall of Fame. This year’s honorees are Porter Wagoner and the late Bill Carlisle . However, all the Hall members are invited, as well as the usual glitterati. Among those who came to the last bash were Dolly Parton , Bill Anderson , Eddy Arnold , Brenda Lee , Little Jimmy Dickens , the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band , Jim Lauderdale , Jimmy Martin and Emmylou Harris .

Book Looks at South’s Musical Muscle
This week I commend to your attention and reference shelves the mint-fresh, revised and expanded edition of Southern Music/American Music. Written by Bill C. Malone and David Stricklin, the book traces the ways in which all types of Southern music — from folk to country to jazz — have influenced the nation’s culture. The new edition is current enough to note the impact of the surprisingly popular O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack album. Of particular interest to fans is the suggested listening list.

More Badinage About Bing
Who knew there were so many Bing Crosby fans still ambulatory out there? I mentioned in last week’s column there’s a new collection of Crosby’s music coming out to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth and noted that he had scored only two country hits during his long career: “Pistol Packin’ Mama” and “Till the End of the World.” But Arne Fogel asks, “How about ’San Antonio Rose?'” Fogel, who hosts the Bing & Company show for KLBB-AM in Minneapolis, then goes on to cite such other Crosby standards as “Mexicali Rose,” “The Last Roundup” and “Mule Train.” Asks another reader, “Don’t you consider the song ’Don’t Fence Me In’ a little bit country and western?” And Randy Pitts observes, “Surely [’New San Antonio Rose’] was a country chart hit as well.” What we may have here, folks, is a case of dueling directories. Until 1944, Billboard didn’t have a separate chart for country singles. Crosby’s “New San Antonio Rose” came out in 1941 and was, according to Joel Whitburn, the compiler of all Billboard chart data, a No. 7 pop hit. “Don’t Fence Me In” and some of the titles Fogel mentions are also categorized as pop. My Whitburn country directory, which covers the 1944-1997 period, asserts that Crosby charted 156 pop tunes between 1940 and 1965 but lists only the two country ones. I’ll keep looking into it.

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