HOT TALK: New JMM Video, Label Leavings, Bush Backers

Devoted Readers Get Specific With Their Choices for CMA Show Host(s)

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

Montgomery Plans “Letters From Home” Video
It’s been a long time coming, but finally there’s another John Michael Montgomery video on the horizon. Montgomery’s last music video, “Home to You,” came out in 1999 (although his “lost video” for “The Little Girl” was included in a 2003 DVD anthology). Capitalizing on the explosive popularity of his new single, “Letters From Home,” Warner Bros. will shoot a video for the song as soon as Montgomery finishes recording his new album. A label publicist says neither a director nor a storyline has been selected and that she doubts the video will be ready within the next month.

Howard, Dean, Tennison Leave Labels
After two albums and many glowing reviews, Rebecca Lynn Howard has left MCA Records. Roxie Dean and Chalee Tennison have likewise departed their label, DreamWorks. Last September, DreamWorks released Tennison’s third album, Parading in the Rain, and it scheduled — and rescheduled — a rollout of Dean’s debut CD, Everyday Girl. However, the only material that emerged from the doomed album was the title cut and its music video. Hot Talk also checked out the rumor that Capitol Records might be cutting Jennifer Hanson loose. Not so, says a label rep, who reports that Hanson is “working on new music,” presumably for her second album.

According to the latest rosters, current MCA acts are Gary Allan, Vince Gill, Buck Howdy, Jedd Hughes, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Sugarland, Josh Turner, Lee Ann Womack and Trisha Yearwood. DreamWorks’ revised lineup consists of Jessica Andrews, Tori Baxley, Dan Colehour, Emerson Drive, Scotty Emerick, Hanna-McEuen, Toby Keith, Tracy Lawrence, Danielle Peck, Michelle Poe, Jimmy Wayne and Darryl Worley.

Toby Keith, Amy Grant Among Bush Backers
Last week, Hot Talk spilled the beans on Music Row contributors to the Democratic presidential candidates. In foraging through the list of President Bush’s financial backers, we see that Toby Keith and his wife — identifying themselves as Toby and Patricia Covel — each donated $2,000. Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys kicked in $500 for the cause. Amy Grant — Mrs. Vince Gill — gave $2,000, and Narvel Blackstock — Mr. Reba McEntire — matched that amount.

Vassar Completing Album, Starting Tour
Phil Vassar is close to completing his next album for Arista Records and expects to see it released this summer. A single is slotted for spring. Vassar produced some of the tracks with Byron Gallimore (Tim McGraw, Faith Hill) and others by himself. Two tracks on the album will spotlight Vassar singing and accompanying himself on piano with no additional backing. Next up is a headline tour of the Northeast.

Amanda Wilkinson CD on Slow Track
Although she began recording it last year, don’t expect an album from Amanda Wilkinson (of the group the Wilkinsons) any time soon. A publicist for Universal South Records says the singer is still in the studio and that no single has yet been chosen from the songs already cut. The album could come out “later this year or early next year.”

Nashville Star’s Martinez Cuts for Dualtone
John Arthur Martinez, the runner-up to Buddy Jewell in the Nashville Star talent sweep, is recording his first album for Dualtone Records. Matt Rollings, who just co-helmed an album for Mary Chapin Carpenter, is producing. Martinez’s collection is due out May 4, and the first single, “Home Made of Stone,” will be released near the end of March.

Also on the Dualtone calendar is another album from Radney Foster. Plans are for Foster to begin recording in his hometown of Del Rio, Texas, at the end of February. A label spokeswoman tells Hot Talk that the Carter Family tribute album is “cooking right along.” Its producer, John Carter Cash, she says, recently attended the Air Jamaica Jazz Festival in Montego Bay, where his late father, Johnny Cash, was honored. Next week, he’ll be in Los Angeles for the Grammy Awards. His late mother, June Carter Cash, and his half-sister, Rosanne Cash, are both up for awards.

Opry Planning Roadshow Tour
It appears that the Grand Ole Opry will sponsor an American Roadshow tour this year that will spotlight such prominent members as Vince Gill and Patty Loveless. If so, it will introduce the Opry name to audiences who know little if anything about the 79-year-old weekly radio show. So far, though, the Opry is saying nothing about the project. An Opry publicist confirms to Hot Talk that the tour “is definitely something that has been discussed,” but adds, “There really are no details that I can share right now. There’s nothing firm.” However, a spokeswoman for Loveless’ manager says the singer will be doing “a couple of [Opry-affiliated] dates with Vince Gill.” A check of concert listings by Pollstar, the talent and touring magazine, shows Loveless as having two “Grand Ole Opry American Roadshow” dates — July 23 in Marshall, Mo., at a venue still to be announced, and July 24 at the Jones County Fair in Monticello, Iowa. Loveless’ Web site specifies that the latter date is with Gill.

Readers Name a Host of Possible Hosts
Hot Talk’s vast — make that half-vast — readership has some strong opinions on who should host the CMA Awards show now that Vince Gill has bowed out. “Who could be better than Dolly Parton?” asks Chris Barnes. “EVERYBODY knows Dolly, and she is one of the few country stars who can read a Teleprompter and make it sound like she’s making it up off the top of her head.” Point taken. After scorning the notion that vitriolic Simon Cowell might be good for the job, W. Kaye Ashley adds to the list of possibilities the names of Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Buck Owens, Tom T. Hall and Hank Williams Jr. I don’t know about that last one, W. Kaye. Do you really trust Bocephus to behave himself in a room full of tuxes.

Most agreed that Garth Brooks would be the prize catch for emcee. “I think we do need some Garth magic,” writes Spc. Shane Wayment from the Al Taji military base in Iraq. “I saw when he and Trisha Yearwood sang ’Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man’ for Loretta Lynn at the Kennedy Center [and] I have always liked his music.” An unidentified correspondent asks, “How about Eddy [Arnold] and Garth together? I’d like to see that!” Same here, buddy. Jaret Raynes is another Garthophile: “I think that [he] deserves that honor more than anybody else and fits the spot better than anybody else.” OK, CMA, the people have spoken. Ignore them at your peril.

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