NASHVILLE SKYLINE: New Music From Alan Jackson to Mindy McCready

Some Songs Not About Tractors, Farms, Small Towns or Being Country

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

I have been hearing there were some new CDs with music that was not all about farms, small towns, tractors or being more country than you or me. I started searching around a bit, and — sure enough — I found some of that. Here’s a brief survey of some current and upcoming music.

I’ve already written a bit about Alan Jackson‘s new CD, Freight Train, due March 30, which is a solid continuation of his body of work of music and his affirmations of generally everything that he loves. I’m drawn to the song “Tail Light Blues,” which his nephew Adam Wright (of the Wrights) co-wrote. The song is more or less a variation of the theme of Clint Black‘s “Nothin’ but the Taillights,” but it’s a nice little verbal twist.

Mindy McCready has sadly become sort of the Courtney Love of country music. McCready has had a very hard life, most of it because of her own decisions. Nonetheless, she is entitled to another chance in her life and in her possible music career. Fourteen years ago, she had her only No. 1 hit with “Guys Do It All the Time.” Then things began to go haywire in her life and career. I’m Still Here, her new album, is due March 23. Her voice is not what it was long ago, but it still can be expressive. There are, as you might expect, many songs here about regrets and about wounds healing and the like. I find that the title song, which McCready co-wrote, is perhaps not as evocative of her life now as is the first song here, “Wrong Again,” written by Helen Darling and Gary Burr. It reads in part, “I’ve come to terms/I’ve made amends/I’ve asked forgiveness for my sins/I never should have let you in/Been wrong before/I’ll be wrong again.”

Josh Thompson‘s debut album, Way Out Here, has been around for a few weeks, and he’s drawing attention, especially for his debut single, “Beer on the Table.” I have hopes for Thompson, especially because of “Blame It on Waylon,” his co-written song which shows a genuine understanding of and appreciation of that whole Outlaw musical upheaval and its importance to the music of today and to the whole sense of music’s legacy. I must say, though, that I was a tad disappointed with Thompson’s lapse into the basement brawling of “more country than you” with the song “You Ain’t Seen Country Yet.” Do you really think a chick today wants to see “the sun comin’ up from the bed of a pickup truck?” But Josh is young yet. And he still has a ponytail.

Marty Raybon is one of the best pure country singers in recent years, most notably as leader of the group Shenandoah, with such hits as “The Church on Cumberland Road” and “Next to You, Next to Me.” Now, he has a solo album, At His Best, due April 8, showcasing his considerable vocal talents. I find one of the songs here that he co-wrote remarkable in its honesty at addressing the dilemma facing a middle-aged performer who has enjoyed success and is now perplexed at his situation in life. In “The Change,” he sings, “Clothes don’t make a man who lives behind the times/And a young girl’s smile is as rare as a vintage wine/Crazy in my middle age is the excuse I use these days/While life turns the page/It must be the change.”

Elizabeth Cook named her upcoming album Welder, due May 11, after the profession her father learned while he was a prison inmate in Georgia. That shows the characteristic candor of Cook, who regularly sings heartbreakingly traditional country songs on the Grand Ole Opry, and also trots out very frank songs such as “Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman” at her own shows and on her last album, Balls. She is a refreshingly unpretentious — and very good — reminder of why country music is country music. She has one foot in 1930 and one in 2020. The song “El Camino” is a crisp little country rap with nice rock guitar. And when she brings in Quaalude, you start to appreciate her entire palette of musical colors. “Heroin Addict Sister” is not what you expect from a Nashville singer-songwriter, either, but it is an extremely empathetic song and a very credible one. This is a damn good album and is easily one of the best to come out of Nashville thus far in 2010.

I don’t often willingly play CDs that come with a pink cover, but I’m glad I put on Becky Schlegel. This is her fourth solo CD, due April 6, and I don’t know how I missed her before. She’s a bluegrass-rooted artist who recently moved to Nashville from the Midwest, and her new albumDandelion is a dandy. She’s a gifted songwriter with a voice that evokes Alison Krauss or Dolly Parton and is a charming singer.