HOT TALK: Deana Bakes Pies, Holly Slams CMA, June Blooms in Last Album

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

Did I Grease My Pan for This? Deana Carter Cooks
You’d think that just showing up and looking like Deana Carter would be sufficient reward, but Carter took an extra step last week to thank her band and crew before the troupe hit the road. She baked them all pies — 22 of them. The Arista Records artist revealed her culinary bent June 6 to a crowd that had gathered at the Ryman Auditorium for the Fan Fair Celebrity Lecture Series. Carter hosted the afternoon session, asking questions of Wynonna Judd and soap stars Peter Reckell and Alison Sweeney (Days of Our Lives) and Lindsay Korman (Passions). Pie baking, it turns out, wasn’t the only thing superstar Carter had in common with Fan Fair folks. Just like many of them, she got stuck in the fierce Nashville traffic and arrived for the gig 20 minutes late.

‘N Sync Star on Songwriting Mission
While in town for a Fan Fair appearance, ‘N Sync’s Lance Bass teamed up to co-write with some of Music City’s top songwriters, including Victoria Shaw, Gary Burr and Dann Huff. ‘N Sync’s next album will be out early next year, he said. Looking more alert than was decent for that time of day, Bass showed up promptly at 8 a.m. to speak at Fan Fair’s first Celebrity Lecture Series. He shared the Ryman Auditorium stage June 6 with Vince Gill, Alabama’s Randy Owen and CMT’s own Katie Cook, who served as moderator. The ratio of women to men in the audience for this testosterone festival? About three-to-one.

Holly Dunn Slams CMA For Fan Fair Changes
Singer, songwriter and Grand Ole Opry member Holly Dunn says she’s had it with the Country Music Association. So she’s not going to renew her membership. She’s mad that the CMA has decided to sideline the name “Fan Fair,” replace it next year with the more inclusive “CMA Music Festival” and add other kinds of music to the lineup. “It has been my belief that the CMA’s mission is to protect and advance country music, not to help further the public’s growing confusion over what country music really is,” Dunn wrote in a June 12 letter to the Nashville daily, The Tennessean. “You have only to drive down Music Row, where the ‘For Sale’ signs outnumber signs on businesses, to know that country music is in trouble. Bringing pop or rock acts into a historically country music event is not the cure. It will only serve to alienate the ones who are keeping us in business at all.”

Dunn, who won the CMA’s Horizon Award in 1987, also took issue with the CMA moving Fan Fair from the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in 2000 to downtown Nashville. “The thousands of folks who used to show up year after year in their RVs now have nowhere to set up camp,” she lamented. “I was in hopes that the CMA would be the last ones to sell out our heritage for profits. I, for one, have paid my last annual dues. I cannot in good faith continue to support an organization that no longer values itself. Instead of country music, it now appears CMA stands for ‘Cash Management Association.’” Ouch!

June Carter Cash: The Last Wildwood Flower
If you’re old enough and country enough, you can hear in June Carter Cash’s final album the artless, unguarded sounds of a backwoods woman singing to herself as she hangs wet clothes on an outdoor line or sits in the corner of a kitchen, her apron filled, stringing beans. These are the old songs that working people used to sing — plainspoken, melodically simple and sharp with the splinters of real experience. They’re not “better” than today’s country songs; they’re just of a different time and much closer to matters of life and death. No suburban angst or adolescent fevers here.

The album, Wildwood Flower on Dualtone Records, won’t go on sale until Sept. 9, but advance copies have already been sent to reviewers. This is a real family project. Son John Carter Cash produced it, and his wife, Laura, sings on it. Johnny Cash lends his Olympian vocals to most of the cuts. June’s daughter, Carlene, and Carlene’s daughter, Tiffany Anastasia Lowe, also join in, as do Joe and Janette Carter, the children of dynasty founders A. P. and Sara Carter. In the mix as well is Cash’s former son-in-law, Marty Stuart. Norman and Nancy Blake are the principal musicians.

Of the 14 songs, I’m happy to report that Carter Cash includes “Keep on the Sunny Side,” the philosophical precursor to a thousand American self-help books. Then there’s the light-hearted gem, “Temptation,” which she and Cash render in the exaggerated hillbilly style of Red Ingle and Cinderella G. Stump (Jo Stafford), who had a hit on it in 1947. As a card-carrying sentimentalist, I’m especially fond of “Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea” and “Will You Miss Me.” Carter Cash’s voice cracks and falters at times as she wades through the ages, but her heart has perfect pitch.

Billy Dean Single on the Way
Producer Chuck Howard tells HotTalk that Billy Dean’s first single on the H2E label, “I’m in Love With You,” will be out soon. No exact date, though.

IMAX Film, Our Country, Premieres June 25
Our Country, the long-awaited and long-delayed IMAX film, will have its world premiere Wednesday, June 25 at the Regal Opry Mills IMAX Theatre in Nashville. The film features performances by some of country music’s biggest stars. CMA award-winner Steven Goldmann directed the musical sequences. Randy Scruggs wrote the original score and supervised the music production. Hot Talk will give you a complete report on this cinematic blowout.

Urban Cowboy Era Better Than Depicted
Jamie Nelms writes to say that he’s tired of critics badmouthing country music’s “Urban Cowboy” days, that is, the early 1980s. Calling it “one of my very favorite eras,” he notes that it yielded such memorable hits as “Nobody” (Sylvia), “Lookin’ for Love” (Johnny Lee), “Jose Cuervo” (Shelly West), “Islands in the Stream” (Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton) and “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home” (David Frizzell). He complains that the record companies have done little to acknowledge the vitality of the period by reissuing definitive collections or CD versions of specific albums by the likes of Lee, Crystal Gayle, Eddie Rabbitt and Frizzell and West.

Nelms’ biggest complaint, however, is about the neglect of Barbara Mandrell’s legacy. As he points out, Mandrell is the only woman to have twice won the CMA’s entertainer of the year award and that she had a conspicuously successful network variety show [on NBC-TV for two seasons]. He says his requests to MCA to reissue Mandrell’s works have been met with silence. “You would think that in this age of consolidation, consumer apathy, illegal downloading and manufactured Nashville stars,” he says, “that the labels would attempt to maximize their profits by exploiting their catalogs.” Any thoughts on this?

How Are We Doin’? Don’t Ask
There are a great many things to abhor about Fan Fair, but first on my list is the absolute certainty that on any given day at least a dozen different performers will bound onto the stage and shout, “How are y’all doin’?” Be still, my stomach! Is this the best opening line that a town filled with wordsmiths can come up with? If it is, then allow a poor scribe to suggest some more engaging alternatives:

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Please hold your applause until you just can’t stand it any longer.

“I stand here today, ready to be humbled by your love.”

“At the count of three, turn to the person on your right and whisper, ‘I didn’t realize he was that short.’”

“What a beautiful sight you are! I look into your friendly faces and see my next
house payment.”

“This is the biggest thrill I’ve had since someone at the record company returned my phone call.”

“If you must walk out, please do it at the end of a song, so it will look like a standing ovation.”

“Are you ready for some good old country music? Know where we can find any?”

Of course, all Conway Twitty needed to say to drive the crowd crazy was, “Hello, darlin’.”

When they came for me at dawn, they found me — as you will, dear reader — at HotTalk@cmt.com.

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