NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Lee Ann Womack, Waylon Jennings, Randy Houser …

Some Stuff I Like Hearing Right Now

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

It’s approaching year-end, which means much good music is being released all at once. Here are some things I am especially enjoying listening to these days.

Call Me Crazy by Lee Ann Womack. Can anyone these days deliver a sad song with more heart-breaking credibility than Womack? I don’t think so. Listen to “Last Call.” Womack’s a true standard-bearer of pure country music without making a big deal about it. She continues to find worthwhile songs and to then make them sound really good. This is not all purist country, but it’s pure enough She sounds utterly convincing dueting with George Strait and Keith Urban on one album. That tells me Womack is working a knowing combination of traditional country with an updated sound. And you know what? No other woman singer in mainstream country music is doing that.

Waylon Forever by Waylon Jennings is the project the late country legend began recording with his son Shooter years ago. It’s now been finished by Shooter with the assistance of his band, the .357′s, with added vocals from Lee Ann Womack and Waylon’s widow (and Shooter’s mother) Jessi Colter. And it’s a mind-blower. In a very good way. We’ll print more about it in days to come here. Here’s a questionnaire: Are you ready for a Waylon quasi-psychedelic-outlaw version of Cream’s “White Room”? Do you know what Cream’s “White Room” is? Do you know who Cream was? Do you know what psychedelic is? Do you care? Answers will be forthcoming.

Randy Houser is the self-titled debut by one of the leading up-and-coming singer-songwriters in Nashville today, and this collection shows you why. I know that he was a co-writer on “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” and “Back That Thing Up,” but I’m trying to not hold those things against him. I know that songwriters need to make a living. However, Houser ratcheted up his profile several hundred notches when TV talk show host David Letterman heard Houser’s performance of his song “Anything Goes” on satellite radio and booked him, sight unseen, on his show. And it was a huge success. Now comes his debut album. I’m liking it. If you haven’t heard Houser, think of a voice that sort of incorporates Trace Adkins with Ronnie Dunn. Right in there.

If the World Was You by J.D. Souther is the first solo album by the reclusive co-architect of the Southern California country-rock sound since his 1984 album, Home Before Dawn, and it is very welcome indeed. Not surprisingly, it’s completely uncharacterizable. A jazzy, quirky, country-sounding album with an R&B horn section? Why not? I’m still getting familiar with the 11 new Souther songs here. A couple of them could become instant Eagles hits. Then there’s the 13-minute “The Secret Handshake of Fate,” which I’m growing to really appreciate. Nothing here is shorter than three and a-half minutes, but he’s got a lot to say after all these years.

Tennessee Pusher by Old Crow Medicine Show. I first saw these guys play at a CMT.com house party years ago and they were just as delightful then. They are growing musically, trying to transcend without totally abandoning their roots as a punky old-time string band, with help here from high-profile producer Dan Was and guest shots by drummer Jim Keltner and keyboardist Benmont Tench. On the new CD, I like their recording of Blind Alfred Reed’s classic inspirational song, “Always Lift Him Up” (titled “Lift Him Up” here), which brings to mind Ry Cooder’s classic version, featured on Cooder’s new anthology.

The Ry Cooder Anthology: The UFO Has Landed shows again why he is so valuable as the keeper of and guide to America’s vernacular music. This two-CD anthology was assembled by Cooder’s son Joaquim and it is sequenced thematically, rather than chronologically. And I don’t mean that the songs are arranged by subject matter. They fall into place because of the way they bookend and balance and complement each other. A great idea for Cooder’s music. Listen here and you’ll intuit why “Going Back to Okinawa” belongs between “Poor Man’s Shangri La” and “Little Sister.” And it’s all good music.

Neil Young: Sugar Mountain — Live was recorded in 1968 back when he had just left the Buffalo Springfield and was setting out by himself. Cut live with just his guitar and voice at the University of Michigan’s Canterbury House, the 23-song set (counting the introduction as one track) pretty much set him on the path to be a valid solo artist. What a lovely, innocent-sounding voice, especially on songs such as “Expecting to Fly,” “Sugar Mountain” and “Mr. Soul.” This isn’t scheduled for release till Nov. 25, but Neil Young fans are already very interested.