(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
• OK, here’s the scenario: You have a 50+ year-old country singer who doesn’t write songs, who seldom tours, who barely moves on stage when he does perform, who prefers traditional songs, who has never been arrested, who has been married to the same woman for 33 years, who wears clean, starched clothes and who rides horses but has never stolen one. Is that a likely game plan for a superstar artist? Please check yes or no to the likelihood of that sort of thing ever happening.
But that’s George Strait to a T. Nothing but a straight-arrow husband and father. Result: His new 50 Number Ones CD sails this week to the top of both the Billboard Country Albums and Billboard 200 charts (Strait’s first-time debut at No. 1 on the latter) with sales of 343,000 copies.
Why? Because he picks consistently good, fulfilling songs. Because he presents a strong image of an upright, forthright, honest, straight-shooting man, projecting some real bedrock values, with a belief in straight-ahead, pure country songs. When I recently interviewed Strait, he said he had objected to the title of his movie Pure Country. “I tried and tried to get them to change the title ’cause Pure Country … I thought was, um … I just … I just didn’t like it,” Strait said. “I thought this is too bold a statement to say this movie is pure country, you know.” Strait is popular because he is exactly what he seems to be.
Footnote: I recommend for Strait fans and for just plain old songwriting fans the CD A Songwriters’ Tribute to George Strait (Compadre). Not everyone wants to hear songwriters sing (there is a reason for singers, after all), but it can be fascinating to hear a song in its creator’s voice. And, because Strait has long since proven that he has country music’s best ears, it’s instructive to hear what he heard in these 12 songs. The album was produced by songwriter Pat Alger, who also did 2000’s In the Beginning: A Songwriter’s Tribute to Garth Brooks.
• One of the most charming albums in any genre that I’ve heard a many a day is Jack Clement’s Guess Things Happen That Way (Dualtone). Cowboy Jack Clement has an amazing history, even by Nashville standards. He was the engineer at Sun Records in Memphis when Johnny Cash recorded Clement’s song, “Guess Things Happen That Way.” He produced or engineered hits at Sun by Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and others. He wrote “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” for Cash. He penned a stalker-song classic, “It’ll Be Me,” which was a hit for Lewis. He discovered and produced Charley Pride. He shot Nashville’s first music videos. Now he sits out on Belmont Boulevard and produces great records and holds court and serves as guru to the Nashville music community. And puts out a solo album about every two and a-half decades. (This is his second album.) His sense of whimsy and wonder at the power of music is something I think you will find very inspiring.
• Emmylou Harris’ lovely Christmas album is returning, in remastered form. Light of the Stable(Rhino/WB) first appeared in 1980 and continues to attract listeners. It began with Harris’ recording of the title track with her Hot Band and with Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young joining in on vocals. It grew from there, attracting guest vocalists Willie Nelson, Ricky Skaggs, Sharon White, Cheryl White and Kate and Anna McGarrigle. The new version has added three songs: Beth Nielsen Chapman’s “There Is a Light,” the McGarrigle’s “Man Is an Island” and the traditional “Cherry Tree Carol.”
• “The Induce Act” seems to have died in Congress. This bill’s provisions allow lawsuits against and civil and criminal prosecution of any peer-to-peer (P2P) companies that allow or encourage transfer or downloading of any copyrighted materials. This was obviously a well-intentioned bill that sought to protect artists’ rights first and foremost. Bill S. 2560 — the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act — was introduced before the Senate on June 22. Better known by its nickname “The Induce Bill” or “Induce Act,” its primary stated aim was to fight copyright infringement.
In its broader powers, however, the bill extended to include prosecution of any person or any object that “induces” copyright infringement. Critics of the bill charged that its broad language could apply to VCRs, DVD recorders, TiVo and similar devices, iPODs, MP3 players and the like, as well as to the owners of those devices. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the bill’s sponsor who himself is a songwriter and sells his records on his Web site, was unable to steer the bill through the Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. So it’s dead. For now.