Merritt, Shaver, Brown Release New Albums

Roots-Oriented Artists Dominate Week's Offerings

As summer comes to a close, a number of Americana artists are releasing new studio albums on Tuesday (Aug. 24).

Tift Merritt gets more soulful on her sophomore effort, Tambourine (Lost Highway). Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, The New York Daily News and Vanity Fair have already praised the album, though it is a departure from 2002’s delicate Bramble Rose. Guests include Gary Louris (Jayhawks), Maria McKee (formerly of Lone Justice), Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Steve Gorman (Black Crowes) and steel guitar phenomenon Robert Randolph. Merritt’s first video, “Virginia, No One Can Warn You,” aired on CMT in 2002, and she recently filmed a new video near Rome, Italy.

Junior Brown cranks up his famous “guit-steel” — his own combination of electric guitar and steel guitar — for some hotrod songs on Down Home Chrome (Telarc). Brown landed heavy rotation on CMT in 1995 for the clever slapstick video, “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead.” Brown also produced the album, which features one of the best (or worst) title puns in recent memory, “Two Rons Don’t Make It Right,” about a breakup due to mistaken identity.

Billy Joe Shaver says he was advised by his late son, Eddy, about completing Billy and the Kid (Compadre). Eddy’s musical tracks were taken from a 1996 session in Nashville, as well as some unfinished tracks from a studio in Waco, Texas. Shaver, who turns 65 on Tuesday, co-produced the album with Tony Colton. Shaver says, “The album is full of love, talent and dedication with the tracks that Eddy left me to finish.”

Kenny Baker and Bobby Hicks’ Darkness on the Delta (County) leads the pack of bluegrass albums, in addition to Josh Crowe’s Sincerely, Nothin’ Fancy’s Reflections and Charlie Waller & the Country Gentlemen’s Songs of the American Spirit, all on Pinecastle Records. Open-minded bluegrass fans might also enjoy fiddler Vassar Clements’ Livin’ With the Blues (Acoustic Disc). Clements’ album features guest appearances by Elvin Bishop, Maria Muldaur and Charlie Musselwhite, among others.

Two tribute albums with a country influence make their debuts this week as well. Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster (American Roots Publishing) includes performances from David Ball, BR549, Suzy Bogguss, Raul Malo and John Prine, as well as a track with Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Mark O’Connor and Alison Krauss. Foster is considered America’s first professional songwriter. Two members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn and the Staple Singers’ Mavis Staples — also appear.

Meanwhile, The Unbroken Circle: The Musical Heritage of the Carter Family (Dualtone) offers recordings from Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Rosanne Cash and Joe and Janette Carter. Additional participants include Norman and Nancy Blake, Shawn Colvin with Earl and Randy Scruggs, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris with the Peasall Sisters, George Jones, the Del McCoury Band, Willie Nelson, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, Marty Stuart and the Whites (with Ricky Skaggs).

Also new in stores: The Sadies’ Favourite Colours (Yep Roc), Ken Mellons’ Sweet, Drive-By Truckers’ The Dirty South (New West), Ian Moore’s Luminaria (Yep Roc) and Burrito Deluxe’s The Whole Enchilada (Luna Chica).