Fans Getting Double Helping of George Strait Hits

A Songwriters' Tribute Arrives Alongside His Own 50 Number Ones

George Strait’s biggest hits abound on two new CD packages arriving in stores Tuesday (Oct. 5) — and he doesn’t even sing on one of them.

Taking its title from his combined chart history at music trade publication such as Billboard and Radio & Records, Strait’s 50 Number Ones (MCA) is a two-CD collection of songs dating back to his first chart-topper, 1982′s “Fool Hearted Memory.” In some ways, the compilation is more interesting when you consider the songs that are omitted because they never hit No. 1, including Strait staples such as “Amarillo by Morning,” “The Cowboy Rides Away” and “The Fireman.”

If you do the proverbial math, you’ll notice that 50 Number Ones actually contains 51 songs. No doubt, the aggressive radio promotion machine at MCA Records is working overtime to push the bonus track, “I Hate Everything,” to the top. The track has already reached No. 3 on the Billboard country singles chart.

Strait, himself, remains reclusive when it comes to the media, but he did consent to being interviewed for a radio special to promote the album. And Strait even sat down for an extensive television interview to air Saturday (Oct. 9) at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CMT Insider.

If you’d like an idea of what attracted him to the songs in the first place, check out A Songwriters’ Tribute to George Strait (Compadre). Songwriter-producer Pat Alger, who also produced In the Beginning: A Songwriters’ Tribute to Garth Brooks in 2000, collected 12 of Strait’s most famous songs as performed by the songwriters who created them. With sparse acoustic backing, it’s about as close to a demo as most of us will ever hear. The tracks include Byron Hill’s “Fool Hearted Memory,” Jeff Stevens’ “Carrying Your Love With Me,” Gretchen Peters’ “Chill of an Early Fall” and Eric Kaz’s “I Cross My Heart.”

The real grit of the tribute album, however, comes with performances by three of the veteran songwriters. Mack Vickery adds yet another level of humor to his performance of “The Fireman,” while even Alger says, “Sonny Throckmorton’s version of ‘The Cowboy Rides Away’ is heartbreaking.” Whitey Shafer begins the disc with “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” and closes it with “All My Ex’s Live in Texas.”

Joining the Strait titles on store shelves Tuesday is singer-songwriter Katrina Elam’s self-titled debut on Universal South Records. In her home state of Oklahoma, Elam had already shared the stage with Reba McEntire and Vince Gill by the time she was signed to a publishing deal with Warner-Chappell Music at the age of 16. Produced by Tony Brown and Jimmie Lee Sloas, the album includes nine songs she co-wrote, including the current single, “No End in Sight.” Another track — “Unbreakable” — was co-written with Vicky McGehee and Big & Rich’s John Rich. Elam will be on the road this fall during the CMT-sponsored Keith Urban Be Here ’04 tour that kicks off Oct. 8 in Muncie, Ind.

Also on Universal South is Holly Williams’ The Ones We Never Knew. It’s the debut album from the 22-year-old singer-songwriter who is the daughter of Hank Williams Jr. and the granddaughter of & well, you know the history.

British-born actress Minnie Driver offers her first musical project, Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket (Zoe/Rounder). Billboard‘s description of Driver’s album quickly dispels the notion that trade publications always court the favor of artists and record labels by running positive reviews.

Deryl Dodd’s Stronger Proof (Dualtone) is the latest musical chapter in the career of a singer-songwriter who has survived some serious burdens in recent years after being diagnosed with an acute case of viral encephalitis, a debilitating illness that attacks the central nervous system. Confined to bed for six months, Dodd had to literally teach himself to play guitar again when the illness began to subside. After three albums for Sony Music, Dodd was featured on an independently-released live album in 2003. With rock and hard country influences, Stronger Proof includes 10 original songs and a cover of Kenny Rogers’ 1978 hit, “Love or Something Like It.”

It’s been 30 years since John Denver topped the chart with “Annie’s Song,” so it’s an opportune time to release the digitally remixed and remastered John Denver Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits (BMG Heritage). The set includes his biggest hits, plus a bonus disc containing five previously unreleased tracks, including a demo version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and a cover of “The Weight.”

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.