Albums by Kenny Chesney, Clint Black Slated for Early 2004

Tracy Lawrence, Lorrie Morgan, Mary Chapin Carpenter Also Delivering New Projects

Don’t spend that Christmas money just yet. Several country stars will be releasing new studio albums in the coming months.

Already claiming a No. 1 hit, Kenny Chesney’s When the Sun Goes Down leads the pack of country artists returning to the record stores in early 2004. “There Goes My Life” reached No. 1 at the end of 2003, although the album doesn’t hit stores until Feb. 3. It’s been less than two years since No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems boosted him to superstar status, and his career has only escalated since then.

Clint Black dominated the airwaves throughout the 1990s, but has escaped the major-label rat race with his new album Spend My Time due Feb. 10. He’s issuing it on his own label, Equity Records, which he co-founded with former Sony exec Mike Kraski. Written with longtime collaborator Hayden Nicholas, the title track is still climbing the singles chart after 11 weeks. It’s currently at No. 23.

Tracy Lawrence scored 20 Top 10 hits throughout the 1990s, but his career faltered after some personal upheaval, as well as corporate shake-ups at his label. However, he’s now on a different label — which happens to be run by his producer, DreamWorks’ Nashville chief James Stroud. Lawrence’s current single, “Paint Me a Birmingham,” has also been on the charts for 11 weeks and is now at No. 34. The album is due March 16.

Lorrie Morgan charted her first three singles in 1979, but it would be another decade before “Dear Me” reached the Top 10. She built her reputation on sassy numbers like “Five Minutes” and “What Part of No,” as well as sensual songs like “Something in Red.” Those hits were produced by Richard Landis who returns to helm Show Me How due Jan. 20. The first single, “Do You Still Want to Buy Me That Drink (Frank),” found Morgan as a single mother telling a would-be lover just what he’s getting in for.

Mary Chapin Carpenter got hitched in 2002, which may bring a close to the yearning-for-love songs that have always populated her poetic albums. But then again, maybe not. Recent gigs have introduced gems like “In My Heaven,” about her welcoming vision of the great unknown, and “Grand Central Station,” inspired by a man who worked at ground zero immediately following 9/11. Titled Between Here and Gone, the album arrives March 23.

Norah Jones may be found nestled next to George in many country fans’ alphabetized collections. It doesn’t hurt that she shared the stage with Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton in 2003 or that her take on “Wurlitzer Prize” stole the show on a recent Waylon Jennings tribute album. Her debut Don’t Know Why swept the Grammys and sold 8 million copies, so expectations are high. Look for Feels Like Home — with a cameo from Parton — to arrive sometime in February.

In addition to Jones, several other young women are offering notable projects in early 2004. Mindy Smith earned substantial video airplay on CMT with “Jolene,” but her debut One Moment More (due Jan. 27) boasts her own folk-oriented material. The title track is a heartbreaker. Meanwhile, Garrison Starr’s Airstreams & Satellites (due Feb. 10) is more aggressive, and yet incredibly charming. Some may remember her from Emmylou Harris’ mini-tour about landmine awareness last year, as she subbed for an ailing Carpenter. Patty Griffin — perhaps the best female songwriter you’ve never heard of — was also on that bill, and she’ll be returning with a new studio album as well. So will the charming Canadian songwriter Sarah Harmer, whose All Of Our Names arrives on March 16.

Alt-country fans can mark the calendars too. After a very long absence, the Flatlanders earned raves for their 2002 album, so they’re taking another spin with Wheels of Fortune arriving Jan. 27. The young, old-time music-makers Old Crow Medicine Show prescribe their national debut OCMS on Feb. 10. Texas favorite Cross Canadian Ragweed return with Soul Gravy on March 2, followed a week later by honky-tonkers BR549’s Tangled in the Pines. In addition, folk favorite Slaid Cleaves returns on March 9 with Wishbones.

Bluegrass fans, take note. Releases from IBMA winners Kenny and Amanda Smith, the supergroup BlueRidge and newcomers Alecia Nugent, the Bluegrass All Stars and the Gibson Brothers are all on the way in coming months. A little bit later in the year, keep an ear out for new albums from the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Sam Bush, as well as solo projects from Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile and Sean Watkins.

Also on the books: The Ultimate Waylon Jennings collects 22 of his signature songs, including the non-RCA No. 1 hits “Highwayman” and “Rose in Paradise,” on Jan. 27. … James Otto follows his opening slot for Shania Twain’s Up! tour with his debut Days of Our Lives due Feb. 10. … The Essenshul Cledus T. Judd collects 11 early favorites, such as “Gone Funky” and “Indian In-Laws,” also on Feb. 10. … David Lee Murphy returns with a new album in March, eight years after the success of “Party Crowd” and “Dust on the Bottle.” … Raul Malo croons the classics with the top-notch band of Pat Flynn, Rob Ickes and Dave Pomeroy for The Nashville Acoustic Sessions on March 30.