HOT TALK: Cold Mountain CD Cast May Tour, Dolly Duets With Janis

Plus, New JMM and Yoakam Albums and Grammy Gripes

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

Cold Mountain Tour in the Works
Who’ll be on it, when it will start, where it will go and how it will operate are still up in the air, but plans are definitely in progress for a tour based on the soundtrack album for the movie Cold Mountain. Denise Stiff, one of the chief strategists behind the 2002 Down From the Mountain tour (a spinoff of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack) confirms, “we’re working on it,” but adds that plans “aren’t far enough along yet” to say which artists might be involved. Stiff also manages Alison Krauss, who has two songs on the Cold Mountain soundtrack, both of which are up for Academy Awards. Krauss will perform on the Academy’s show Feb. 29, and a win there would certainly be both a boost and good omen for the tour. Other performers on the Cold Mountain album are Jack White, Tim Ericksen, Tim O’Brien, Dirk Powell, Riley Baugus, Stuart Duncan, the Sacred Heart Singers at Liberty Church, Cassie Franklin, the Reeltime Travelers and Gabriel Yared. According to the Country Music Association, the Down From the Mountain tour grossed $13 million. T Bone Burnett produced both albums.

John Michael Montgomery Album Set for April 20
Although John Michael Montgomery hasn’t finished or settled on a title for his next album, Warner Bros. is scheduled to release it on April 20 to capitalize on the singer’s fast-rising single, “Letters From Home.”

Koch/Audium Slots New Yoakam Album, Keen Reissues
Koch/Audium Records aims to release its second Dwight Yoakam album in late May. Its tentative title is Used Records. The label will also reissue three CDs by Texas singer Robert Earl Keen: No. 2 Live Dinner, Bigger Piece of the Sky and No Kinda Dancer. Parodist Cledus T. Judd is now officially signed to Koch/Audium but has not starting recording his next project.

Janis and Dolly: Just Two Chicks Singin’ About Home
Janis Ian’s forthcoming album, Billie’s Bones, features a charming duet with Dolly Parton called “My Tennessee Hills.” Written by New York-born Ian as an appreciation of the soul-soothing qualities of her adopted home state, it may remind you of such Parton paeans as “My Tennessee Mountain Home” and “Tennessee Homesick Blues.” Ian, who wrote all the songs for the album (except for a time-bridging “co-write” with Woody Guthrie), has a spectacular Web site. A portion of it is called “The Making of a CD,” and it is the most detailed presentation of how an album comes together that I’ve ever seen. You can listen to her work tapes and final mixes, examine different drafts of her lyrics, see candid photos of what’s going on in the studio and read her diary accounts of the project from start to finish — including what it was like to work with Parton. The title refers to singer Billie Holiday, one of Ian’s idols. Of all the songs, the most heart wrenching is “Matthew,” a reflection on the 1998 beating and death of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepherd and a look into the minds of the homophobes who killed him. Billie’s Bones, which is on Oh Boy Records, makes its debut on Feb. 24. That same day, Ian will perform selections from the album and sign copies of it at the Tower Records store in Nashville.

Sara Evans Looking for Co-Producer
Hot Talk reader Rick Bell, who also writes on music for San Diego’s North County Times, tips us that Sara Evans is searching for a new co-producer, now that her regular control board sidekick, Paul Worley, has moved to Warner Bros. Records. Evans also says that she’s begun writing songs for her next album.

Ed Bruce Sings at Gene Hughes Memorial
Ed Bruce — of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” fame — sang at last week’s memorial service for Gene Hughes, a Hot Talk tipster reports. Hughes, a record promoter and the lead singer of the ’60s group, the Casinos, died Feb. 2. Bruce sang “Amazing Grace” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.” The mourners also heard a recording of Tracy Byrd’s 1995 hit, “Keeper of the Stars,” which was Hughes and his wife’s favorite song. A benefit concert was held on Hughes’ behalf at a Nashville nightclub the following evening (Feb. 10). It had been organized a few weeks before his death to help pay for his medical bills. Among those performing were T. Graham Brown, Dickey Lee, Jimmy Griffin (formerly of Bread and the Remingtons), Bruce Channel, Larry Henry (of the Newbeats), Buzz Cason and Freddy Weller.

Country Music Conference Here in May
Lock up your sherry, Nashville, profs with guitars are riding into town. I’m alluding, of course, to the International Country Music Conference, the rowdiest, most opinionated passel of punslingers south of the Charles River. OK, OK, so I’m overdoing it, but these folks really do know and love country music, and their observations are always provocative to hear. This year’s footnoted fandango will take place May 27-29 at Belmont University. On opening night, Ryan Brasseux and the Lost Bayou Ramblers will illustrate and discuss the history and future of Cajun music. Other scheduled talks include Renee Dechert’s “I May Be a Real Bad (Cow)Boy: Using Images of Rodeo to Create Authenticity in the Extended Video of Tim McGraw’s ’Real Good Man,'” Charles K. Wolfe’s “Core Repertoire in Modern Country Music” and Pat Langston’s “Country Music and the Ottawa Valley: Homegrown or Nashville-Sown?” Tickets are available at Ticketmaster. Just kidding! Like the country music industry it monitors so assiduously, the ICMC now confers its own slate of awards. At its Friday luncheon, the group will hand out honors for country music book of the year, lifetime achievement and excellence in country music journalism. I say, “Bring ’em on.”

Bill Anderson/City Lights Festival Announces Lineup
For the eighth consecutive year, Grand Ole Opry star Bill Anderson will host and headline the City Lights Festival in Commerce, Ga. The June 17-18 event is named for the 1958 hit song, “City Lights,” which Anderson wrote while working as a disc jockey in Commerce. Performing at the festival, in addition to Anderson, will be Darryl Worley, Mel Tillis, Jack Greene, Jan Howard and comedian Dick Hardwick.

Grumbling About the Grammys
If you thought the David and Goliath tiff was a big deal, you oughta check out the one that’s just boiled up between Ricky and Galante. That’s bluegrass wizard Ricky Skaggs and RCA Label Group chief Joe Galante. In January, Galante voiced his complaints to Billboard about who is and who isn’t nominated for country music Grammys. While conceding that all the nominees may be deserving of these awards, Galante complained that many of them don’t represent “what is popular.” He went on to say that the Grammy organization is “not really on top of what’s really happening in this format.” As an example, Galante pointed out that “if you look at the male category this year, you are missing most of the top males.” To be sure, Kenny Chesney and Alan Jackson, both of whom are on RCA labels, were missing, as were such kindred heavyweights as George Strait and Toby Keith.

But Galante’s criticisms rubbed Skaggs the wrong way. And he was still chafing about them, even after he beat out Brooks & Dunn, Diamond Rio and Lonestar (all Galante’s acts), plus the Oak Ridge Boys for best country performance by a group or duo with vocals. In an open letter to the industry last week, Skaggs cited Galante’s disturbing remarks, and then he steamed, “Shame on [whoever] thinks artists like myself, Ray Benson, Lyle Lovett and June Carter Cash . . . ’misrepresent what is popular’ in country music. Thank goodness that the Grammy remains the one award that the Music Row execs and major country radio programmers can’t always control — and thanks to the many [Grammy] members who continually vote for music based on the excellence of the recording instead of what’s getting airplay and chart position.” Then he challenged Galante to a duel with banjos. (Not really, but I can dream, can’t I?)

So how was your day?

If you deplore both popularity and excellence in music and just despise listening to any of it, then share your distaste with me at HotTalk

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