Dwight Yoakam, Jimmy Wayne Lead New Releases

It’s hard to stay cool in the summer, unless you’re Dwight Yoakam — then you’re cool year-round. This is Yoakam’s first project for his own label, but his musical vision remains much the same as when he debuted in 1986, and he still sings better than just about anybody. The lanky one occasionally channels Hank Williams’ drawl on Population Me (Audium/Electrodisc), but it’s awfully hard not to like any guy who can stretch the word “thing” for a full two seconds. Willie Nelson duets on “If Teardrops Were Diamonds.”

After enduring dozens of albums by Nashville’s never-ending supply of new “talent,” it’s a relief to hear Jimmy Wayne (DreamWorks). A relentless journal-keeper, Wayne does not shy away from confessional lyrics — usually about his rough upbringing. (Foster homes, prison, homelessness, abuse, no gifts at Christmas, etc.) Something’s working in his favor now, though, as “Stay Gone” continues its chart ascent. The album suffers from a few too many “This-is-how-much-I-love-you” songs, but otherwise, it’s a strong and notable debut from a 30-year-old who — believe it or not — has something worth singing about and does it well.

Willie Nelson & Friends: Live and Kickin’ (Lost Highway) is the third duets album from this famous Texan in the past few years and the second one to be taken from a concert. Oh, but this one honors his 70th birthday! Despite the less-than-seamless live mix, the whole thing sounds splashier than necessary — with saxes, trumpets and divas shouting about “Beer for My Horses.” Famous well-wishers include Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Ray Price, Shania Twain and a dozen others.

Following three astonishing studio albums, Allison Moorer opts for the live approach with Show (Universal South). With a husky, sensual voice made for smoky rock clubs, Moorer tosses in a few new tunes and reels in her sister Shelby Lynne for song or two. Kid Rock also drops by, but oddly enough, not for “Picture.” (Moorer sang it with him at Farm Aid and appears on the CD single version.) For more Moorer, a limited edition of Show includes a DVD of the Nashville concert taping.

Asleep at the Wheel frontman Ray Benson steps out with his first solo album, Beyond Time (Audium). But don’t assume it’s just more Western swing. Instead, the tall Texan indulges his love of jazz and big band music and had a hand in writing all the songs except for a conjunto remake of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso.” A testament to the diversity of this project, special guests include Flaco Jiminez, Delbert McClinton, Dolly Parton and guitarists Stanley Jordan and Jimmie Vaughan.

Gospel and bluegrass blend beautifully on Blue Highway’s Wondrous Love (Rounder). The arrangements are testament to the band’s talents, without strutting. Amen, brothers! Bluegrass fans might also enjoy Mark Newton’s No Boundaries and the Lilly Brothers & Don Stover’s What Will I Leave Behind, both on Rebel Records.

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.