HOT TALK: Faith in Studio, Alison Enraptures

Rodney in Cahoots, Plus Rare George Jones Recordings and Lots of New Books

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

Faith Hill Starts New Album
With her work in The Stepford Wives finally wrapped up (the movie will premiere this summer), Faith Hill has returned to the recording studio to begin another album. Her manager says Byron Gallimore and Dann Huff will again serve as her producers. There are no projected release dates yet for the album or first single.

Alison Krauss Sparkles at Lynn Morris Benefit
Every time I see Alison Krauss perform, I am puzzled anew as to why this woman isn’t the most popular musical artist in America. Who else can match her? In her work with the incomparable Union Station band, you can hear the improvisational sassiness of jazz, the instrumental purity of bluegrass, the nostalgia of country, the cockiness of rock and the airy reverence of the best gospel music. Her luminous voice can compress an operatic range of emotions into the disarming sweetness of a lullaby.

If I sound more ecstatic than is seemly for a man of my years, it’s because I’m still coming down from Krauss’ triumphant benefit performance Thursday night (Feb. 5) for bluegrass diva Lynn Morris, who’s been sidelined for several months by a stroke. Morris was in the audience, looking surprisingly fit and cheering on those who sang and played on her behalf. Krauss and Union Station entertained the crowd of bluegrass diehards for more than an hour, tendering such genre-bridging favorites as “Every Time You Say Goodbye,” “The Lucky One,” “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You,” “When You Say Nothing at All,” “Let Me Touch You for Awhile,” “Oh, Atlanta” and an ethereally wistful “Ghost in This House” that had some of us dabbing at our eyes.

The concert took place in Nashville during the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America’s annual convention. SPBGMA-goers are generally an older, more traditional and harder to please bunch than regular country fans. But they loved everything Krauss offered and brought her back for an encore. Several artists who had performed earlier stayed on to hear Krauss, including Sharon and Cheryl White and an especially attentive Tom T. Hall.

Krauss will perform on the Academy Awards show Feb. 29 on ABC-TV. Both of the songs she recorded for the Cold Mountain soundtrack — “You Will Be My Ain True Love” and “The Scarlet Tide” — are up for best original song.

Rodney Crowell Will Lead Artists for Democrats
Singer Rodney Crowell has agreed to spearhead an artists committee for the Music Row Democrats. This recently formed group has united to support Democratic candidates and to counter country music’s identification with conservative politics. Crowell attended the MRD’s second public meeting Feb. 3 at Nashville’s Belcourt Theater. Other artists on hand included Hal Ketchum, Raul Malo, James Talley, Bill Lloyd (of Foster & Lloyd) and Claudia Church. The noon-hour get-together drew 190 people.

Tim DuBois, senior partner of Universal South Records, presided over the meeting which also heard remarks from MRD’s other founding members, songwriter-producer Don Cook and talent manager Bob Titley. Cook presented a mission statement for consideration and emphasized that the group is open to everyone in the music community. “This is about Music Row,” he said, “not Country Music Row.” Among the group’s aims, according to the statement Cook read, are “to dispel the notion that the country music community is predominantly Republican” and “to defend the First Amendment rights of those in our community.”

Addressing the subject of country music’s political orientation, songwriter Bobby Braddock said, “Country music is the music of everyday people. Why wouldn’t we be Democrats?” Before relinquishing the podium to representatives of presidential hopefuls Dennis Kucinich, Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, John Edwards and John Kerry, Braddock roared to the appreciative crowd, “This patriotic, Southern, country music lover hates this war that George Bush has gotten us into.”

The only official business conducted was soliciting volunteers for MRD’s five standing committees — finance and fundraising, events and logistics, Internet marketing, media relations and education.

George Jones’ Earliest Live Recordings Arrive in March
I believe we’ll all agree that you can’t have too many George Jones albums. Well, here’s another one that will add something really new to your collection. On March 9, Scena Records will release George Jones: Live Recordings From the Louisiana Hayride. These are the earliest live recordings yet released on Jones — four songs are from the 1956-58 period, four more from 1960 and eight from 1968-69. All were recorded in Shreveport during the weekly show broadcast on radio station KWKH. Jones made his Hayride debut in 1955, the same year he hit the country charts with “Why Baby Why.” Included on the forthcoming album are “You Gotta Be My Baby,” “Color of the Blues,” “Nothing Can Stop My Loving You,” “I’m Ragged but I’m Right,” “Too Much Water,” “Big Harlan Taylor” and “Accidentally on Purpose.”

Clear Your Shelves for More Country Music Books
Coming your way soon — books on Johnny Cash, bluegrass, rhinestones, cowboys and more. Publishers Weekly has just released its spring listing of new titles. Here are the ones that caught my eye: Country Music Changed My Life, by Ken Burke, will be out in August from Chicago Review Press. This collection of interviews boasts such fascinating pieces as Pat Boone talking about his Country Music Hall of Fame father-in-law, Red Foley; Little Jimmy Dickens recalling the song Hank Williams wrote for him, but which he never recorded, and Mickey Gilley musing about standing in the shadow of his famous cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis.

Thomas Goldsmith, a former music writer for The Tennessean and member of the Nashville Jug Band, has compiled The Bluegrass Reader, a collection of magazine articles, album notes and longer pieces about bluegrass music by such pickers and scholars as Alan Lomax, Ralph Rinzler, Marty Stuart, David Gates and Hunter Thompson. It will be out in June from the University of Illinois Press.

Cash, a collective look at the music and impact of Johnny Cash by the editors of Rolling Stone, will be released in May from Crown Publishing. As a measure of Cash’s late-blooming popularity, the publisher will have a first printing of 150,000 copies. Great things are also expected for Jimmy Buffett’s new novel, A Salty Piece of Land, which has a first printing of 650,000 copies. The novel features Tully Mars, the character Buffett introduced in Tales From Margaritaville. It is due out in May from Little, Brown.

Students of sequined country music costumes — from Gene Autry to Marty Stuart — will savor Nudie the Rodeo Tailor: The Life and Times of the Original Rhinestone Cowboy by Jamie Lee Nudie and Mary Lynn Cabrall. It arrives in May from Gibbs Smith. The Adventures of Buzz Cason: Living the Rock ’n’ Roll Dream chronicles Cason’s busy life as a musician, singer, songwriter, music publisher and studio owner. Country fans will know Cason through his co-writing of such songs as “Love’s the Only House,” recorded by Martina McBride, and “Timeless and True Love,” cut most recently by Jeannie Kendall and Alan Jackson. Published by Hal Leonard, the book will be in stores in April. Another Leonard title is the built-for-browsing On This Day in Musical History by Jay Warner. Look for it in May.

We can revisit the King of Cowboys and his queen in The Cowboy and the Senorita: A Biography of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, written by Chris Enss and Howard Kazanjian. It debuts in May from Falcon Guides. This should make a nice companion piece to last year’s Cowboy Princess: Life With My Parents, Roger Rogers and Dale Evans by Cheryl Rogers-Barnett and Frank T. Thompson.

Finally, there’s the intriguingly titled Smile When You Call Me a Hillbilly: Country Music’s Struggle for Respectability, 1939-1954. I’ve not seen an advance of the book, but I think we all know the story. Written by Jeffrey J. Lange, it will be published in August by the University of Georgia Press.

Quick now, country enablers. What is a farm? Send your best guesses, news and gossip to HotTalk

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