HOT TALK: High New Tour and Frenching Shania

Plus, Looking at Lyle Lovett, Listening to Albums and Dissing Norah Jones

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

Great High Mountain Tour Starts May 5
Happy days are here again. The Great High Mountain tour, which features music from the movies Cold Mountain and O Brother, Where Art Thou, will kick off in Knoxville on May 5 and run through June 16. Other locations are still being confirmed. The tour is being presented by T Bone Burnett who, in addition to producing the soundtrack albums for both movies, masterminded the 2002 Down From the Mountain tour.

Included in the new tour lineup are Down From the Mountain alumni Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss & Union Station with Jerry Douglas, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, the Whites, the Cox Family and Norman and Nancy Blake. The other acts are Ollabelle, Tim Ericksen, Dirk Powell, Riley Baugus, the Reeltime Travelers and the Sacred Harp Singers. Keith Case, who booked talent for the tour, estimates that more than 40 singers and musicians will be involved.

Ollabelle is a new group on Sony Records featuring Amy Helm, daughter of the Band’s founder, Levon Helm. Its self-titled album will be out on March 9. Ericksen specializes in sacred harp singing, the ancient a cappella style heard in Cold Mountain. Case says the entire cast will sing a sacred harp finale and that local sacred harp singers will be invited to join in at different stops on the tour. It hasn’t been determined yet if Willard Cox, patriarch of the Cox Family, will perform on any of the dates, Case adds, but the hope is that he will. He was severely injured in a traffic accident soon after he completed his part in O Brother.

Tickets for the first leg of the tour will go on sale March 8.

Emerson Drive Geared Up for Shania
The six guys of Emerson Drive had a blast touring with fellow Canadian Shania Twain and are eager to go again. The band talked about hanging with Twain and played some songs from their new album, What If? at a recent Nashville press luncheon. They said that Twain and her husband, Mutt Lange, speak only French to their son, Eja, figuring it will be easy for him to pick up English later on. Since the band is bilingual as well, things went swimmingly backstage. And it was all very democratic. “We are integrated,” explains fiddler David Pichette. “Shania comes and sits down with us. Mutt Lange is around all the time.” The band will be going back on the road with Twain in April.

Emerson Drive performed “Waitin’ on Me,” “November,” “I’ll Die Tryin'” and their current single, “Last One Standing.” The album, due for release on May 18, was produced by Grammy-winning pop singer Richard Marx. Lead vocalist Brad Mates described “I’ll Die Tryin'” as “the ballad we feel the strongest about.” They all felt strongly about their new tour bus. Lamented keyboardist Dale Wallace, “We were traveling around in a ’72 Greyhound with no toilet for a long, long time.”

Misunderstanding Lyle: That’s Right, I’m Not From Texas
I have witnessed some truly disturbing sights in my time — my car ablaze, my wife wearing a black armband on our wedding anniversary, a cash bar — but none can match the horror I felt when I turned a page in last week’s New Yorker and came upon a photograph of Lyle Lovett crouching astride a trussed-up calf. If you’re fair-minded about it, you’ll have to admit that Lovett standing alone is a formidable enough image to contend with. But juxtapose him with a calf that’s either dead or afflicted with profound malaise and the mind buzzes like a tuning fork. To compound the psychic injury, Lovett is wearing a jacket with white shirt and tie. With one gloved hand, he grasps the unfortunate beast’s right ear and with the other pulls at a rope tied around the calf’s back feet. Unless this is a Texas form of recreational S&M, I am puzzled by the whole grisly tableau.

Oh, yes, there is a rather longish article about Lovett that surrounds the picture. It tells a lot about where he lives and his affinity for livestock but considerably less about his music. Lovett is obviously a tough interview. He has only a few quotes in the story — and nary a one about his former bride and international heartthrob, Julia Roberts. “Their marriage,” writer Alec Wilkinson informs us, “is a subject he will not discuss.” That’s fine with me, but I’d sure like to know more about that calf.

Shawn Camp: Back to Bluegrass
Singer and songwriter Shawn Camp expects to release a bluegrass album, Live at The Station Inn, by late spring or early summer. He tells Hot Talk he cut the album last March and July, aided by such superpickers as Stuart Duncan, Mike Compton, Dennis Crouch, Scott Vestal, Dave Talbot, Bucky Baxter and Dave Roe. Camp, who co-wrote the Garth Brooks chart-topper, “Two Pina Coladas,” used to play fiddle with the Osborne Brothers. He’s also backed Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, Shelby Lynne and Suzy Bogguss, among others. In the early ’90s, he recorded briefly for Reprise Records.

Jim Glaser Bows New Album
If your zeal for country music goes back a few years — oh, say about 20 — then you’ll know the name and remember the incomparable voice of Jim Glaser. He’s got a new album out on Solitaire Records called Me and My Dream. Originally a member of Tompall & the Glaser Brothers, Glaser started his solo recording career in 1968. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that his records began making it regularly into the Top 20. In 1984, he went Top 10 with “If I Could Only Dance With You” and soon after struck No. 1 with “You’re Getting’ to Me Again.” Except for Stephen Foster’s wishful “Hard Times,” the new album is made up entirely of songs Glaser co-wrote. It includes his chart hits “She’s Free but She’s Not Easy” and “I See His Love All Over You,” plus the 1990 Texas Tornados single, “Who Were You Thinkin’ Of.” Good stuff all!

Rhinestones on the Strings

Make a mistake, get a free album. You gotta love this business. In recompense for my correcting an error last week about Nudie “The Rodeo Tailor” Cohn, his biographer, Mary Lynn Cabrall, sent me the album Nudie and His Mandolin. It’s a treasure. I don’t know when the album was recorded — Nudie died in 1984 — but his backup band included Smokey Rogers, Roy Lanham, Dusty Rhodes, Joe Carioca and the great Tex Williams. As a mandolin player, Nudie was no Sam Bush. There’s nothing fancy or adventurous here. But he does play with engaging enthusiasm such listenables as “Lara’s Theme,” “Under the Double Eagle,” “San Antonio Rose” and “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover.” Brightening the album is an insert that shows Nudie with many of his famous friends and clients, among them Dean Martin, Elton John, Tom T. Hall, Hank Williams Jr., Ricky Nelson, Jim Reeves, Hank Snow and George Jones. A sparkling package.

He Doesn’t Adorah Norah
“Why is Norah Jones being so feted at the moment in Nashville?” inquires Julian Charlton from his lair in Ireland. “Both Mindy Smith and Sinead O’Connor left her standing with their versions of Dolly Parton songs on the recent tribute [Just Because I’m a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton]. And if she’s and worthy of listing on the CMT artists database because she covered a Hank Williams track, then why aren’t Cowboy Junkies or The The accorded a similar honor? I don’t get the whole Norah “I’m Really a Honky-Tonk Woman” Jones kind of thing. Her ’country’ tracks leave me cold. … By the way, I’d love to hear what Ricky Skaggs would do with a Beyonce song.” OK, Norahdorers, just jump in anywhere you’d like.

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