HOT TALK is a weekly column by longtime CMT.com contributing writer and former Billboard country music editor Edward Morris.
Alan Jackson to Cut in Nassau; Jamie O’Neal’s Album Done
Alan Jackson will be at the Compass Point recording studio in Nassau at the end of this month to begin recording his next album. “Alan’s writing, and I’ve got a handful of [songs] I’ve found,” says Jackson’s producer, Keith Stegall, a masterful singer and songwriter himself.
Stegall also reports he’s completed producing an album for Jamie O’Neal (of “There Is No Arizona” fame). O’Neal, who formerly recorded for Mercury, is nearing a deal with another major label. Stegall is also co-producing O’Neal’s fellow Australian, Catherine Britt, for RCA. He says he and co-producer Bill Chambers (Kasey Chambers’ father and a member of Britt’s band) are about halfway through the album. Britt will be returning to the United States next month and will be recording a duet with Elton John.
Learning to Love Clay Walker
Had I known Clay Walker wouldn’t go onstage until 9:15 that night, I might not have arrived at the Nashville club exactly at 7 o’clock, as the invitation specified. But, then again, I probably would have. I’m addicted to being on time for social events — and not merely because it puts me first in line at the bar. Of all the cheap virtues, punctuality is the most admired and easiest to master. I took a deep breath at the club door and walked in, parting the curtain of cigarette smoke with both hands. If these unrepentant puffers are the future of country music, I thought, then we’d better sell them a lot of records real quick.
After a certain age, nightclubbing becomes less an entertainment venture and more a journey into anthropology. I leaned back against a wall to watch the frantic mating rituals. Lots of swaggering, lots of beer bottles thrust into the air, lots of imprudently bared midriffs — and I’m talking here about both sexes. Trick Pony’s Ira Dean circulated through the crowd, looking as benign as Willie Nelson. The soul of courtesy, he stopped every few feet to confer autographs and pose for pictures. A blonde with Himalayan topography flung open the right lapel of her denim jacket and bade Dean to sign the inside of it, while her cleavage and boyfriend looked on. Propelling this hormonal merry-go-round were waiters in black T-shirts that said “More Than Just an 8-Second Cowboy” and similarly clad waitresses whose T’s bore the message, “Looking For More Than Just an 8-Second Cowboy.”
The up side of being on time was that I got to see Billy Currington and Rushlow perform. Currington did a solid half-hour program that included “I Must Have Been off My Rocker,” “I’ve Got a Feelin’,” “That’s Just Me,” “Walk a Little Straighter,” “Whole Lot More Where That Came From” and a righteous cover of Delbert McClinton’s 1980 hit, “Giving It Up for Your Love.” Currington bantered comfortably and confidently with the audience between numbers and generally displayed a strong stage presence. The group Rushlow, captained by lead singer Tim Rushlow, offered an enthusiastic mix of cuts from its debut album (including the next single, “Sweet Summer Rain”), some Little Texas hits (“Amy’s Back in Austin,” “God Blessed Texas”) and a few R&B standards (“Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” “Mustang Sally”).
To tell the truth, I’ve never been a big fan of Clay Walker. But I am now. His show was worth the two-hour wait. Opening with “If I Could Make a Living,” he steamed and sashayed through “Dreaming With My Eyes Open,” “You’re Beginning to Get to Me” and “Jesus Was a Country Boy.” He took an Elvis turn with “I Feel the Heat,” flourishing a long white scarf and kicking out at the crowd, which by this time was up at the stage barriers screaming. A little later, he hushed the room with “Holding Her and Loving You,” Earl Thomas Conley’s great 1983 hit. If he had sung no other song that evening, this one alone would have made me a convert. (By the way, do you miss ETC as much as I do?) Just as we were all getting mellow, Walker brought up the horn trio, Blues You Can Use, to accompany him on “When She’s Good She’s Good.” The brassy sound was so potent that he kept the trio as he stretched out with “Knock on Wood,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Hound Dog,” “Your Mama Don’t Dance” and “My Girl.” And there was still more to come.
Walker rolled on with “A Few Questions” and his current single, “I Can’t Sleep.” Dissatisfied with the restrained way he had ended “Sleep,” he insisted on doing it again so he could hit the excruciatingly high final note, which he did to spectacular effect. Drawing together two members of his band to form a vocal trio, Walker plunged into a rousing country medley of “I Saw the Light,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and “Big Ball in Cowtown.” He told a story about golfing with Glenn Frey of the Eagles, then segued into “Take It to the Limit.” After singing 24 songs that covered virtually every pop music format, Walker and the band made a quick exit, only to return after a couple of minutes to encore with the Doobie Brothers’ 1973 hit, “China Grove,” and Walker’s own majestic “This Woman and This Man.” It was almost enough to make you forget the mountainous blonde. Almost.
First Dates Announced for Great High Mountain Tour
The dates and places for the first leg of the Great High Mountain tour have just been announced. As reported here a couple of columns ago, Alison Krauss and Ralph Stanley will headline the tour, which will feature music from the soundtracks of Cold Mountain and O Brother, Where Art Thou? The tour opens May 5 at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., and then moves to Schottenstein Center, Columbus, Ohio, May 6; U. S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati, Ohio, May 7: Civic Opera House, Chicago, May 8; Milwaukee Theatre, Milwaukee, May 9; Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis, May 11; Fox Theatre, St. Louis, May 12; Fox Theatre, Detroit, May 13; and wraps up May 14 at the Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Other acts on the bill are the Nashville Bluegrass Band, the Whites, the Cox Family, Norman and Nancy Blake, Ollabelle, Tim Ericksen, Dirk Powell, Riley Baugus, the Reeltime Travelers and the Sacred Harp Singers.
Brittany Roe: These ‘Shoes’ Are Made for Chartin’
During the Country Radio Seminar craziness of a few days back, I popped into Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in downtown Nashville to catch a set by the bright young Oklahoma singer, Brittany Roe. Let me tell you, she rocks — and in all the right places. Her first single, “Shoes,” has been burning up the Texas Music Chart (and “bubbling under” in Billboard). It’s an infectious little ditty that proclaims “men are a lot like shoes” and invites women to classify their significant irritants as “sneakers,” “loafers,” “low-down heels” or “keepers.”
Playing steel guitar in Roe’s band that night (he also played on her upcoming album) was Pat Severs, who helped light up the skies in the early 1990s as a member of Pirates of the Mississippi. He says he’s lost track of the other bandsmen, meaning, I guess, that we can rule out a reunion any time soon. That’s unfortunate. The Pirates had a string of fine songs — “Rollin’ Home,” “Til I’m Holding You Again,” “Too Much” and the weirdly unforgettable “Feed Jake.” Trivia buffs may recall that the somber “Feed Jake” music video didn’t even show the band.
Documentary in Works on National Barn Dance
Chicago producer and director Stephen Parry is shooting a documentary on the National Barn Dance, the Chicago-based radio show that ran from 1924 to 1960. On the air for nearly a year before the Grand Ole Opry was born, it was one of the Opry’s chief early competitors. “I kind of got this idea back in 2002,” Parry tells Hot Talk. “I have an interest in early country music, and I play a little bit — some guitar and mandolin.” The National Barn Dance was “huge,” Parry continues, noting that it starred such eventual venerables as Gene Autry, Patsy Montana, Lulu Belle & Scotty and Bradley Kincaid.
Parry, who’s producing the film in cooperation with the Media Working Group of Lexington, Ky., has already collected “lots of pictures” of the show, as well as some film footage of the Eighth Street Theater, the Barn Dance’s home from 1932 to 1957. He’s also tracked down and talked to some of the artists who performed on the show, including 95-year-old Slim Bryant, who co-wrote “Mother, Queen of My Heart” with Jimmie Rodgers. Bryant played with such other country pioneers as Clayton McMichen and Riley Puckett. “He had a great story,” Parry says, “about [radio station] WLS [doing] this remote broadcast above the World’s Fair from an airplane. He and the band went up, and it was broadcast back down to the Eighth Street Theater.” Parry has also interviewed Tom C. Fouts, who performed on the Barn Dance as Captain Stubby (with the Buccaneers) from 1949 to 1960.
Still looking for funds to support the project — which he hopes to complete by late 2005 or early 2006 — Parry says he’s already gotten grants from the Illinois Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grants have enabled him to assemble a team of country music experts as consultants, among them Charles Wolfe, Bill Malone and Loyal Jones. Garrison Keillor, the originator and host of Public Radio International’s A Prairie Home Companion, has indicated an interest in narrating the documentary, Parry says. In addition to aiming it for broadcast on PBS, Parry explains, “We want to get it into the schools so it can be used for music education and to teach history. [We’ll] have it in DVD format with a teacher’s resource guide.” Those who have information or materials about the National Barn Dance can contact Parry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An Album Inspired
Maybe I’m just not attuned to the miracle of time-shifting, but I’m still trying to figure out how Mel Gibson’s new movie could have “inspired” songs that were cut ages ago. Still, that’s what the album title says: Songs Inspired by The Passion of the Christ. On the album, you’ll find hoary tunes by Elvis Presley, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave and lots of other sunshine saints. Hey, wait a minute! Do you suppose Universal South Records really meant Marketing Inspired by The Passion of the Christ?
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