HOT TALK: Tim Talks Album, Cold Mountain Breakdown

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

McGraw Producing, Writing, Acting, Planning Album
Not only is Tim McGraw going to record his next album with his own band — as he did his current one — he also plans to return to the same remote studio in New York’s Catskill Mountains to do it. McGraw’s co-producer, Byron Gallimore, tells Hot Talk that recording will probably commence in January and that he already has a lot of songs selected.

McGraw updated reporters on matters of all sorts at a party held last Thursday (Oct. 23) to honor George Teren and Rivers Rutherford, the writers of his latest No. 1, “Real Good Man.” He called it “a cool attitude-song” that reminded him of the kind of songs Hank Williams Jr. favors. “I’m a big fan of his,” he said. He revealed that he’s not just producing the Warren Brothers but also doing some co-writing with them. In the past, he’s left songwriting to others. He lamented that radio stations have largely ignored the version of the Warren Brothers’ current single, “Sell a Lot of Beer,” on which he and Kenny Chesney chime in with guest vocals.

The singer predicted that his wife, Faith Hill, who’s wrapping up her role in the remake of The Stepford Wives, will be “a huge movie star.” He noted that he has a role in Black Cloud, the upcoming independent film that actor Rick Schroder directs. McGraw squelched the rumor that he and his family are moving to Beverly Hills, Calif., (“The Beverly Hillbillies,” he smirked) where they’ve bought a house. “No, we’re not moving,” he stressed. “I can’t stand to be out there more than a week at a time.” He said, however, that because he and Hill have three kids and need a place other than a hotel to stay when they’re on the coast for extended business, it just made sense to buy.

Climbing Cold Mountain
If you think it’s tough finding Osama bin Laden, you ought to take a shot at discovering anything specific about the soundtrack album to the impending Civil War-era movie, Cold Mountain. The album bears looking into because it’s being produced by T Bone Burnett, whose ear for listenable period music gave us the megaselling O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. In addition, several acoustic-oriented country artists from O Brother and its spinoff projects have been involved in the new album, among them Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, Tim O’Brien, fiddler Stuart Duncan and guitarist Norman Blake. Calls to the Nashville and New York offices of Columbia Records, which will release the album in league with Burnett’s DMZ label, have yielded nothing. According to, the soundtrack will be out Dec. 9, but the site offers no info on specific tracks or artists. Then there’s the equally mysterious Cold Mountain stage event set for Nov. 17 at New York’s Lincoln Center. Some — and possibly all — of the artists participating in the album have been asked to leave that date open, presumably to perform.

Having no luck with the usual sources, Hot Talk tracked down Tim Eriksen, a singer who specializes in shape-note singing (an ancient form of musical notation) and who has been working with Burnett on a separate album. He says that all the artists cited above are on the soundtrack, as well as himself, Dirk Powell, Jack White (of White Stripes) and banjoist Riley Baugus. Elvis Costello and Sting, he adds, have written songs for the album. The Lincoln Center show, Eriksson thinks, will be filmed for either PBS or A&E. It will consist of musical performances by the soundtrack artists and readings by Cold Mountain’s author, Charles Frazier, and the film’s principal actors, Nicole Kidman and Jude Law. The O Brother phenomenon was greatly aided by the documentary Down From the Mountain, which was shot at Nashville’s Ryan Auditorium well before the movie that inspired it was released. Perhaps there’s similar thinking here.

I’ll keep you posted.

On the Bus — And Under the Influence — With Country Legends
Gerry Wood’s Tales From Country Music (Sports Publishing) is better than a backstage pass to Fan Fair. Oops! I mean CMA Music Festival. The former editor-in-chief of Billboard and longtime writer for People and Country Weekly has been hanging out with big, big names since the early 1970s. While he offers relatively short and straightforward glimpses of such celebs as Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Patty Loveless and George Strait, he is an absolute riot in his longer sketches of road trips with the likes of Willie Nelson and Conway Twitty. Reading Woods’ account of his drunken train ride from New Orleans to Nashville with Jimmy Buffett and Jerry Jeff Walker (during which the two tipsy troubadours managed to write the incomparable “Railroad Lady”) is like watching Animal House on wheels. It isn’t all happy talk, though. Wood freely admits that his sojourn on Twitty’s rule-bound bus was a squeeze through hell, and he’s still simmering at the way Clay Walker treated him during an interview. Naomi Judd wrote the introduction and contributes a touching reminiscence about her friendship with Tammy Wynette. Another bonus is the full text of Garrison Keillor’s amiable eulogy for Chet Atkins. Lots of black and white photos, too, many of them from Wood’s own collection.

Reba and Garth in Angels & Demons
There’s a new edition out of Angels & Demons, the action-packed Vatican mystery that preceded Dan Brown’s recent bestseller, The Da Vinci Code. And what has this to do with country music, you ask? Not much. After all, Brown’s hero in both books is the high-minded Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon. In Angels & Demons, though, there’s a pilot who seems to cotton to our kind of songs. At one point, he asks Langdon, “Do you like Reba?” and then plays “The Fear of Being Alone. In a later scene, he says, “I’ll be in the cockpit with the air-conditioning and my music. Just me and Garth.” Could be he just digs Oklahomans.

Andy and Sara Say “Just a Minute”
If you call the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau on one of its particularly busy days, you’ll hear Andy Griggs’ recorded welcome and, a minute or so later, Sara Evans asking you to be patient until a real person comes on the line. Better still, while you’re on hold, you’ll be listening to country music. It ain’t exactly like being on radio, but at least it’s a captive audience.

Party Doll
A couple of columns back, I told you about encountering a Hank Williams Jr. doll for the first time. Well, reader Charlie Woods, who lives near Buffalo, N.Y., has a much better story: “Last year, we were at ’the Superbowl of Country Music,’ Jamboree in the Hills [in St. Clairsville, Ohio]. It was Friday or Saturday night. I can’t remember exactly. This was just after Hank Jr. closed out the [last show of the] night, and we were all a bit inebriated. This must have been one of the first [dolls] released because I had never seen one either. Everybody loved it so much, though. Anyway, we were back at the campsite, and it was about 1:30 in the morning, and the whole place was rocking. The only problem was that the generators were supposed to be out by about 12 or 12:30 a.m. We were jamming big time to the DJ soundstation one of our fellow campers had brought. All of a sudden, a cop pulls up on a horse … and he says he is going to have to shut us down. We were all hitting the Hank doll — he was positioned on top of the DJ van. When the cop said to us [that he had to shut us down], someone hit the button on the Hank Jr. doll and [started him] singing and dancing. Then they put a flashlight on him for the officer to see [and said], ’This is Hank’s party.’ The officer about busted a gut, stayed for a beer with us and then went on his merry way. It was too funny. Never thought so many good times would come with a doll only 19 inches high.”

I miss you terribly and am likely to whimper at any moment. So please write. The address is

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