Summer is over. The days grow shorter. The air chills slightly. And the month of September begins with an odd batch of country albums.
A number of prominent female singers collaborated on Remembering Patsy Cline (MCA Nashville), a gauzy tribute album that probably shouldn’t be racked in the country bin. The first five singers are Natalie Cole, Norah Jones, Amy Grant, Diana Krall and Michelle Branch. Even Lee Ann Womack’s turn sounds like jazz. k.d.lang, Terri Clark and Martina McBride are on here, too.
But if you’d prefer not to mess with a good thing, pick up a digitally remastered copy of Patsy Cline’s 12 Greatest Hits (MCA Nashville). The track listing is the same as the tribute, but this one’s all Patsy: “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Faded Love” and so on. But you probably knew that already because the original version (non-remastered) has already sold 9 million copies.
Clay Walker returns with A Few Questions (RCA). So let’s take this opportunity to ask a few questions of our own. First of all, does anybody care? Yeah, apparently, because the title track is already a Top 10 hit. Second of all, is the record any good? Yeah, it sure is, in that polished, radio-ready, crowd-pleasing kind of way. But even that approach is easy to screw up. (Remember his goofy “One, Two, I Love You”?) Of course, no comeback is complete without a rambunctious song about country life, which in this case would be “Countrified.”
A fellow young Texan, Rick Trevino reached No. 1 in 1997 with “Running Out of Reasons to Run.” Despite decent sales, he vanished from the charts later that year but later surfaced in the Latin all-star group Los Super Seven. In My Dreams is sprinkled with Latin influences, as well as fluid melodies, swooning vocals and a rather curious remake of “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman.” Raul Malo produced.
Dig a bit deeper, and you’ll find some quiet champions this week, too.
• June Carter Cash’s Wildwood Flower is both charming and heartbreaking. Nearly all the songs come from somewhere within the Carter family’s catalog, sung in June’s fragile yet commanding voice. In our old age, may we all sound as lively as Johnny and June on the flirtatious “Temptation.” Rosanne Cash wrote the elegant liner notes.
• Encouraged by the warm reception to last year’s The Old Plank Road, the Chieftains issue a second collection featuring their celebrated Nashville friends. Patty Loveless, Alison Moorer, Nickel Creek and John Prine join the famous Irish band for Further Down the Old Plank Road (RCA Victor).
• If you prefer country music without the famous Nashville wax-and-buff, try Rodney Hayden’s Living the Good Life (Audium/Koch). This promising 23-year-old Texan emerges as a sturdy, traditional songwriter — with the vocals to match. Good stuff.
• Don Rigsby’s soaring tenor is a powerful weapon throughout The Midnight Call (Sugar Hill). If you like bluegrass haunted by maternal ghosts and family murderers, this one’s right up your dark alley. Marvelous musicianship, too.
• Based in Austin, Texas, Two High String Band has earned its audience touring with Peter Rowan and Tony Rice, as well as Yonder Mountain String Band. Their debut album Insofarasmuch (Blue Corn) succeeds on its pure material and its charming modesty.
Also new: Fiddling ingénue Natalie MacMaster’s Blueprint (Rounder); banjo innovator Tony Furtado’s Live Gypsy (Dualtone); Texas club singer Roger Creager’s Long Way to Mexico (Dualtone); folk-singing friends Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert’s Side of the Road (Philo); the Buffy Sainte-Marie anthology Best of the Vanguard Years; and the 30th anniversary edition of Kinky Friedman’s audacious debut album Sold American (Vanguard).