(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
I am really happy with the prospect of some good, good music coming this year. Here are a few examples I’m still enjoying listening to.
Kip Moore, Up All Night: I have to say I have not heard a more compelling and appealing new singer-songwriter-performer since Jamey Johnson came along. And I don’t hand these awards out in Cracker Jack boxes. Moore has earned the right to be heard with his impressive debut album, Up All Night. What separates him from all the new formulaic back-road beer-and babes writer-singers? Songs that scratch and kick at you and plead and then demand to be heard. His vocals are urgent and gritty, the gifted voice of a true storyteller working at full throttle.
Trampled by Turtles , Stars and Satellites: We are steadily coming back around to the DIY string band sentiment, if not the exact same sound, as the Hootenanny phenomenon of the 1960s. The years of the Kingston Trio and the Limeliters and the Chad Mitchell Trio and then the Byrds and Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and Gram Parsons. Far from sticking to the simple folk song structures used by prominent early groups such as the Kingston Trio, Trampled by Turtles sing and play much more complex songs with intricate rock and bluegrass-related themes and atmospheric instrumentation. They show just how much sound and fury can be aroused with fiddle and mandolin and banjo and guitar and acoustic bass. And it’s very effective. They, of course, are musically related to such groups as Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers, but they’re all following their own course.
Johnny Cash, Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth: Columbia Records Nashville dropped Cash from its roster in the mid-1980s or so for running out of radio hits, personally devastating him. But Columbia’s Legacy label has taken much better care of him in death. This latest reissue is a jam-packed two-CD set of 51 songs. The material includes two previous gospel albums plus a number of previously unreleased gospel songs, as well as outtakes. So the term “bootleg” is used a bit loosely. Nonetheless, Cash’s gospel catalog is so rich in diverse material that there are always things worth listening to. I can’t have too many versions of “I Was There When It Happened” or “Over the Next Hill (We’ll Be Home).” Cash is joined on some tracks by former son-in-law Rodney Crowell, Kris Kristofferson, the Carter Family, Marshall Grant, Cindy Cash, Helen Carter, June Carter Cash, Jessi Colter, Rosanne Cash and Jan Howard.
Willie Nelson, Heroes: This is a fascinating album on more than one level. I think it represents the most effort Nelson has put into an album in years. It also includes some interesting vocal collaborations. There are Jamey Johnson, Merle Haggard, Sheryl Crow, Ray Price, Kris Kristofferson and Snoop Dogg. It also features Willie’s sons, Lukas and Micah. At age 24, Lukas sounds as if he’s just coming into his own as a writer and singer. You also should give his new album, Wasted, a close listen. He is doing some very tantalizing things with genre-crossing music. So far, the most compelling song on Heroes, for me at least, is “A Horse Called Music,” sung with Merle Haggard. “A Horse Called Music” strikes me as the final chapter to Nelson’s epochal 1975 masterpiece, Red Headed Stranger. And it carries the same emotional impact. There is also a full five-minute version of “The Scientist,” which was released as a single last year but came into prominence as a soundtrack to a commercial during the Super Bowl.
Lionel Richie, Tuskegee: My friend Kinky Friedman used to refer to Lionel Richie as “the most dangerous man in America” (because Kinky said Richie resembles Kinky). Richie’s new Tuskegee album is a very listenable collection of his solo hits and Commodores songs gone country. Richie’s vocal collaborations with a number of country artists, from Kenny Chesney to Tim McGraw to Little Big Town, are sometimes astonishingly satisfying. As just one example, the song “Say You, Say Me” was obviously born for country instrumentation, especially with the steel guitar. The really dangerous thing about Richie here is that, at times, he sounds more self-assuredly country than about half of these so-called country stars.
Memo to ACM colleagues: It was probably not such a great idea to have Ashton Kutcher on a country awards show attempting to sing George Strait while wearing an outfit that apparently came from Goodwill. And please drop any more open zipper jokes. Even Hee Haw stayed in better taste with such “humor” and was much funnier. Remember that Kiss belong in comic books. And maybe somebody should take Blake Shelton aside and advise him that — until he manages to write and sing better career-defining songs than Randy Travis has done — he should refrain from any more insulting “jokes” about Travis.