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The Dixie Chicks Go Home and a Cache of Early Cash
"They got money but they don't have Cash," wail the Dixie Chicks in "Long Time Gone," their current and withering assessment of today's country music. Well, folks, among this week's new releases, we've got the Chicks in a nesting mood and more Cash than you've got time to spend. Plus, there's a second album from the guys who so adore the Man in Black they've named their band after him.

If fierce litigation inspires the level of creativity the Dixie Chicks achieve in Home (Open Wide/Monument/Columbia), then they should sue their record label before every album. In spite of the very public court clamor and the prospect that their last album might be their last album, the Chicks have delivered in Home a collection that is more adventurous musically and more provocative lyrically than either of their two previous Monument packages (Wide Open Spaces, 1998; Fly, 1999). The trio recorded the new 12-tune project in Texas, their home base, and co-produced it with Lloyd Maines, the father of lead singer Natalie Maines and a formidable musician in his own right.

While there are occasional sassy and up-tempo pieces -- among them "Long Time Gone" and the Chicks-penned bluegrass romp, "White Trash Wedding" -- Home is essentially wistful and introspective, particularly so with the two Patty Griffin songs, Bruce Robison's "Travelin' Soldier" and Maia and Randy Sharp's inconsolably mournful "A Home." Also noteworthy are the cover version of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide" and fresh compositions from Radney Foster, Tim O'Brien and Gary Nicholson, and Marty Stuart and two of the Chicks (Martie and Natalie). Strong stuff all.

Columbia/Legacy is bowing four Johnny Cash albums that were made between 1959 and 1979, including a concert recording never before released. Each of the three reissues has bonus cuts. Of greatest interest to Cash collectors is At Madison Square Garden. Recorded in 1969, this 26-cut treasure displays the singer at the peak of his form, back when he was touring with Carl Perkins, the Carter Family, the Statler Brothers and his younger brother, Tommy, all of whom are featured here. Cash's between-songs stories and observations are always intriguing and often revealing, as when he addresses the still-raging Vietnam War in his introduction to "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream."

Songs of Our Soil, recorded 10 years earlier, finds Cash riding the folk music boom of the day. Since most of the 14 selections were either written or arranged by Cash, they fall somewhat short of folk authenticity. But they are quite listenable nonetheless. Among the familiar tunes are "Five Feet High and Rising," "The Great Speckle Bird," "My Grandfather's Clock" and "I Got Stripes."

There are 22 cuts on the 1965 collection, Johnny Cash Sings Ballads of the True West. Most of the songs touch lightly -- very lightly -- on American history, although a few spotlight historical types, such as the gunfighter, the cowboy, the noble Indian and the pioneer. Notable are Cash's reworking of Longfellow's poem in "Hiawatha's Vision," his cover of Jim Reeves' 1961 hit, "The Blizzard," the presidential assassination ballad, "Mr. Garfield" and the amusingly combative swan song, "Sam Hall."

Silver, recorded in 1979, celebrated Cash's impending 25th anniversary as a recording artist. Of the 12 cuts, only two charted as singles, "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" and "I Say It's True," a duet with George Jones. However, the two bonus cuts -- "I Got Stripes" and "I Still Miss Someone" -- had both charted long before. Besides Jones, who sings on three songs, the album showcases the multi-instrumental picking of promising newcomer Ricky Skaggs.

From the grandly named Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash comes Distance Between (Ultimatum Music), the San Diego band's follow-up to last year's critical triumph, Walk Alone. Less an exercise in traditional country than its predecessor, Distance Between still demonstrates why all that initial excitement was warranted. Country music enthusiast Billy Bob Thornton lends his voice to the album's only cover tune, "Long Black Veil."

Hold on, though! There's lots more new music to talk about Wednesday, including collections from Montgomery Gentry, BlackHawk, Ray Price and several newcomers.
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