Jackson, Austin, McCoury Lead New Releases

Wouldn’t it be the greatest if more artists released best-of albums like Alan Jackson? With Greatest Hits Volume II (Arista), you already know the words to 16 songs — or 17, if you count the new Jimmy Buffett duet, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.” It’s refreshing to hear some of these older songs again, like “Gone Crazy” and “The Blues Man.” (However, “www.memory” is still as ridiculous, but catchy.) The first disc also includes “Remember When” — not a bad title for a project such as this. Flip over the first CD in the jewel box and there’s another disc behind it, with eight songs from past albums, hand-picked by Jackson.

The Jackson-Buffett video is included on Jackson’s Greatest Hits Volume II video collection that also arrives in stores Tuesday (Aug. 12). Fans holding out for a DVD version of the video compilation will have to wait until Sept. 9.

A long, long time ago — five years at least — Sherrié Austin was on the same record label as Jackson. Her singles weren’t particularly memorable, but her image of a sassy Australian was hard to forget. After releasing an album on her own, she’s returned to the label game with Streets of Heaven (Broken Bow/C4). It’s filled with the commercial country sound of the day, and she’s currently in the middle of the country singles charts with the title track about pleading with God to save the life of a dying child.

The leading bluegrass band on the circuit, the Del McCoury Band forges ahead with It’s Just the Night (McCoury Music/Sugar Hill). As the reigning International Bluegrass Music Association’s entertainers of the year, the band turned down big offers but stuck to their guns to produce and record this one on their own. The risk was worth it. It’s rare to hear a spooky bluegrass tune, but that’s a true description of the chilling title track — and having the Fairfield Four lend their formidable harmonies was a brilliant move. Excellent stuff.

There’s a style of music called Southern Gospel, and that’s what I’d call Love Never Fails (Daywind). Connie Smith, Sharon White and Barbara Fairchild have been hoping to record together for quite a while now, and the album unites their harmonies and their Christian beliefs beautifully. Of course, White (from the Whites) and Smith are both Opry stars. Fairchild hit No. 1 in 1973 with “Teddy Bear Song,” and she’s been singing gospel for more than a decade now. White’s husband, Ricky Skaggs, produced.

A hero among bluegrass fans and a huge figure in the Americana movement, Tim O’Brien gives the singer-songwriter approach another shot with Traveler (Sugar Hill), his first such solo album since 1997. You can’t argue with a decision like that, considering his past songs have been cut by Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks and rootsy favorites like Kathy Mattea and Nickel Creek. Many of Traveler’s tunes are sure to surface on future albums as well, especially the elegant “Let Love Take You Back Again.”

A bluegrass label based in Orlando, Fla., Pinecastle Records offers three new albums. On It’s My Turn, Michelle Nixon offers a wonderful performance of the new Tom T. Hall song, “Harlan.” (Rhonda Vincent fans, take note.) Meanwhile, Jim Hurst and Missy Raines’ Synergy mixes a bit of blues with its bluegrass, and the Churchmen offer a quiet and well-behaved gospel record, On the Journey Home.

Also new: Formerly of the Statler Brothers, Jimmy Fortune goes solo with When One Door Closes (Audium/Koch), with a new version of the hit “Elizabeth.” … The Cash Brothers possess intriguing and mesmerizing harmonies on A Brand New Night (Rounder). It might sound like the Everly Brothers if they had hung out with Gram Parsons for a while. … The bluegrass band behind the Tennessee Pride sausage jingle heard on the Opry, Pine Mountain Railroad switches on The Old Radio (CMH). … A peculiar singer-songwriter with a girlish voice, Tywanna Jo Baskette coos her way through Fancy Blue (Terminus/Sweet Tea).

Finally on DVD, the 1975 documentary Heartworn Highways (Catfish) portrays the rough-edged country music in Nashville and Austin, Texas, in the 1970s. The restored time capsule, directed by James Szalapski, features the younger days of modern songwriting heroes such as Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle and more than an hour of previously unseen footage.