Country music has a history of artists speaking out. Darryl Worley is the latest example, although Waylon Jennings is perhaps the most notorious. Younger artists generally don’t have much to say, but then again, even Toby Keith ’s early hits were fairly innocent.
It’s easy to consider Worley’s Have You Forgotten? (DreamWorks) to be something of a greatest-hits package. After all, his first five singles are here, and so is the enormously popular title track. In addition to “Have You Forgotten?”, Worley includes three new tunes: The self-confident “I Will Hold My Ground,” the lighthearted “I Need a Breather” and a string-laden war song, “Shiloh.” The 12 tracks from his previous albums are standouts as well, especially the quietly nostalgic “Back Where I Belong.”
Lonesome, On’ry and Mean: A Tribute to Waylon Jennings (Dualtone) combines the music of a legendary outlaw with contemporary outsiders like Dave Alvin, Junior Brown, Guy Clark , Nanci Griffith , Kris Kristofferson and Allison Moorer — all of whom turn in excellent performances. Perhaps best of all is Norah Jones’ rendition of “Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want to Get Over You).” Aside from a few missteps, this one’s still pretty good.
At the opposite end of the musical spectrum sits 15-year-old Billy Gilman . His new album Music Through Heartsongs (Epic) puts the poetry of 15-year-old Mattie J. T. Stepanek to lush orchestration. Apparently, Celine Dion was unavailable, so the duty falls to Gilman to interpret. The kid can still sing (although in a lower range), and the other kid can definitely write. However, the material rarely wavers from the celebration of life despite adversity. With its melodramatic score and sustained agony, fans of Broadway should be the first to embrace this project.
Not far behind is Jessica Andrews who must be listening to a lot of late-night dedications lately. Now (DreamWorks) is very heavy on thickly produced big ballads, courtesy of Byron Gallimore. “Sunshine and Love” even sounds like a remake of “Who I Am.” Only a few tracks stand out, such as the “Killing Me Softly”-esque “When Gentry Plays Guitar” and the Rebecca Lynn Howard -written “Cowboy Guarantee.” The hidden ballad version of “There’s More to Me Than You” closes the album.
The Ennis Sisters won a 2002 Juno for best new country artist in Canada, but It’s Not About You (Rounder) sounds about four years behind what’s going on in the U.S. country world. The album features 12 tracks, with 3 additional remixes at the end. It’s like the first two SHeDAISY albums in one!
Jim & Jesse ’s ‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered (Pinecastle) serves as a memorial to Jim McReynolds who died in December 2002. The song titles can be somewhat eerie, considering the circumstances — “As Long As I Live,” “Standing at the End of My World” and so on. Still, the album celebrates traditional bluegrass, especially the joyous “Tennessee.”
Three albums from alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo are being reissued on Columbia/Legacy. Originally released on Rockville Records, 1990’s No Depression, 1991’s Still Feel Gone and 1992’s March 16-20, 1992 have each been expanded with bonus tracks. After Uncle Tupelo disbanded after a fourth album in 1993, its members separated to form the bands Son Volt and Wilco.
Before he revitalized his career by wanting to talk about himself, Toby Keith scored a dozen big hits at country radio, which resurface on The Millenium Collection (Mercury Nashville). Highlights include “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and the now-ironic “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action.”