(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
You know, there is — as I’m sure you’ve noticed — a vacuum in good, new music being released these days. That being said, there are always alternatives to what the mainstream offers. So I am finding some reasons to be cheerful right now.
One reason to be cheerful: There’s not nearly as much “Katy Perry country” on the horizon as was originally forecast.
And there seems to be zero “Kardashian Country” coming up, as far as can be determined.
Here are a few current and upcoming music projects I’m enjoying right now or looking forward to.
Ronnie Dunn is back, just months after the final hurrah of Brooks & Dunn as a country duo on Sept. 2 in a final Nashville concert. “Bleed Red,” the first song from his upcoming as-yet-unnamed CD sounds like, well, like Ronnie Dunn singing lead on a good song. Some good things never go away. Give it a listen on his website.
Some tributes to legends work. And some should never have been attempted. Here’s one that I think works, judging from the tracks I have heard thus far. The Music Inside: A Collaboration Dedicated to Waylon Jennings, Vol. I is the first of a projected three-CD tribute to the late Waylon Jennings. It features Waylon songs covered by Sunny Sweeney, Jamey Johnson, Jennings’ widow Jessi Colter and others. It’s due Tuesday (Feb. 8).
An intriguing young duo that I suspect Waylon would have appreciated is kicking up some dust with their first two videos. The Civil Wars have their own dark and haunting sound. One caveat to the duo regarding their name: When you Google “The Civil Wars,” 99 times out of a 100, what you’re going to see come up has to do with the War Between the States. See their video for “Poison and Wine.”
A true Waylon worshipper is Jamey Johnson, whose latest project is a true example of devotion to art. Jamey met the famed Blind Boys of Alabama at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in early 2010 and sang “Down by the Riverside” with them at their induction into the Hall, and he and the group felt an immediate kinship. Now he has produced the Blind Boys’ first country gospel album in their 70 years of recording and performing. Lead singer Jimmy Carter, an original Blind Boy since the multi-Grammy-winning group’s founding and a longtime country fan, sounds truly energized here. Some of the cuts I have heard, especially the Blind Boys’ duets with Jamey, Lee Ann Womack and Willie Nelson, bring a whole new definition to the term “country soul.” Take the High Road is due sometime in May.
Nashville’s predominant guitar gunslinger has a new solo album coming soon. Buddy Miller has rounded up his wife Julie, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Lee Ann Womack, Ann McCrary, Chocolate Genius and Marc Ribot to join him on Miller’s upcoming album, The Majestic Silver Strings. It’s due March 1.
Another longtime musical icon has an historical re-issue on March 29. The music of Eric Clapton and the late Duane Allman returns with the 40th anniversary release of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. This expanded version includes Clapton’s appearance on The Johnny Cash Show and his jam with Cash and Carl Perkins on the latter’s song “Matchbox.”
Clapton also sits in with a true voice from the past who is returning. Robbie Robertson, one of the members of the seminal 1960s group The Band, has recorded his first solo album in 11 years. It’s due on April 5. You can hear the song “He Don’t Live Here No More” — as well as Robertson’s comments on the making of the album How to Become Clairvoyant — here.
One of my favorite singer-songwriters is returning with a new project. Lori McKenna came to prominence when Faith Hill recorded four McKenna songs on her Fireflies album. But McKenna has a string of very good albums of her own. Her newest CD is Lorraine. Listen to “The Luxury of Knowing” and “Buy this Town” on her website.
I am really enjoying the originality of the Texas bar and club favorites JB & the Moonshine Band. A line in their song “Perfect Girl,” such as “She was born in ’86 or maybe ’87/She got full intention of getting her Ph.D.,” is a lyric you won’t hear in a Nashville cubicle co-written song. And you sure as hell won’t hear lyrics like the ones in the PG-rated “Sticker Peck Out.” (Available elsewhere online). Check out the video for Moonshine Band’s “Perfect Girl.”
Although I’ve never seen an American Idol episode, I can’t get enough of former Idol finalist Crystal Bowersox and her “Farmer’s Daughter.” That song and her impassioned performance are showing me enormously more heartfelt country than most of what I hear coming out of Nashville these days. Watch the “Farmer’s Daughter” video.
And two of my favorite women singers team up and face off on CMT Crossroads , which airs live Saturday (Feb. 5) at 10 p.m. ET/PT. I first saw and heard Chrissie Hynde and her Pretenders at a concert in New York City’s Central Park in 1980 and first met and heard Faith Hill live at her Fan Fair debut at the old Nashville Fairgrounds in 1995 (although she had sold T-shirts there before as her first Nashville job). They both were singing their hearts out back in the day, and they both are still sounding stellar today. Hear Faith Hill discuss the show here.