NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Sampling Current Music: Dierks Bentley, Holly Williams

And Neil Young, Eric Church and Some More

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

Here’s some music I’ve been enjoying this week:

Dierks Bentley, “Last Call” (from his current CD, Feel That Fire): Bentley is one of the best of mainstream country’s matinee idols, probably because he pays close attention to his music. I’ve also loved his work with his bluegrass idol Del McCoury and Del’s band. And his videos are great. So are his dogs. “Last Call” features some of Bentley’s bluegrass friends, including Ronnie and Rob McCoury and is a rousing bar anthem.

Neil Young, “Johnny Magic” (the first single from his upcoming album, Fork in the Road, due April 7): The seemingly homemade video for it is all over the Web — in two versions. Catch the one with Neil’s dog Carl co-starring. Both videos are very much low-tech and were shot in Young’s Linc Volt, the massive Lincoln Continental that he converted to bio-hydro-electric power and reportedly gets 100 mpg. The song is a sort of saga about that. And it’s a slightly goofy and very fun song. Play this song next to John Rich‘s auto industry song, “Shuttin’ Detroit Down.” I just heard, by the way, that Mickey Rourke and Kris Kristofferson appear in the video for Rich’s song, which was shot in Nashville this week.

Holly Williams, “Keep the Change” (from the CD, Here With Me, due June 16): With a strong, clear voice, Hank Williams‘ granddaughter steps very comfortably and confidently into her heritage. From Hank the elder, to son Hank Jr., daughter Jett, grandson Hank III and now Holly, the Williams family musical tradition is pretty well established. Holly Williams represents a break in that she’s more attuned to country music’s evolution, and she has more in common with the music tradition of, say, a Trisha Yearwood and Patty Loveless to Shania Twain, than with her menfolks’ outlaw bent. This is a country radio-friendly song that shows the genre in a good light.

Scott H. Biram, “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue” (from the CD, Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever, due May 19): Like a one-man Sex Pistols of alt-country, Texan Scott Biram is a take-no-prisoners, hell-bent, raging musical evangelist. Read the title of this song and you know just what you have in store, and it’s well worth it. Mostly Biram accompanies himself on a Gibson hollow-body guitar — often distorted — along with harmonica and electrified foot stomp board to fuel his musical rampages through a gothic landscape. He is sometimes great and scary at the same time. Good for him. Is there still room on the musical landscape for such a maverick? I think there may actually be more room these days, given the different avenues for an artist to reach the listener, apart from the traditional record label to record store route.

Buddy & Julie Miller, “Ellis County” (from the CD, Written in Chalk): The song was inspired by Julie Miller’s home county in Texas. It’s a tale of hard times, and it’s hard to tell if it’s a memory or a forecast. I don’t know of any songwriter-singer in any popular music genre doing better work than Buddy Miller is right now. Add his wife Julie’s complementing sensibility, and the result is pretty damn satisfying. Julie Miller wrote eight of the songs here herself and co-wrote one with Buddy, and they are impressive. Is musical integrity still working? It is very alive and well.

Eric Church, “Lotta Boot Left to Fill” (from his second album, Carolina, due March 24): Church is often erratic, but when he’s good, he’s very good. With “Lotta Boot Left to Fill,” he rocks out and invokes the spirit of Hank and Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash to indict certain current musical trends.

Ben Kweller, “Homeward Bound” (from the CD, Changing Horses): Kweller continues his metamorphosis from power pop to alt-country and is fairly convincing here, if erratic at times. The boy is trying to sing some country music, though. Give him credit for that. I’m still not convinced that his slight voice can stand up to the challenge. Come to think of it, that’s never slowed down some successful country singers.

Sara Watkins, “Any Old Time” (from her self-titled solo debut CD, due April 7): Nickel Creek‘s gifted fiddle player shows a bit more of her playing and singing with this venture which was produced by former Led Zep bassist John Paul Jones and has guest appearances by Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Tom Petty, Ronnie McCoury and fellow Nickel Creek-ers Chris Thile and Sean Watkins. “Any Old Time” is the old Jimmie Rodgers song, and this is a spirited jump version.

Delbert McClinton, “Texas Me” (from the CD, Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm): McClinton pays a heartfelt and soulful salute to fellow Texan Sahm, who remains one of the great under-appreciated American musical geniuses. McClinton is from the same Texas generation as Sahm, who came of age in the era of rough bars and roadhouses, of musicians scuffling for a buck wherever one could be made. But that heritage filled their music with a fullness that not every artist has, and it toughened their musical character. “Texas Me” is a soulful lament of what happened when Sahm briefly experienced rock stardom and headed for the lure of California. This is when rock ‘n’ roll worked hand in hand with country.

As Bob Dylan says on his satellite radio show, “Time to make like a tree … and leave.”