On the eve of summer, one of country's bubbliest stars releases a new hits package, while Southern rock's most magnificent band returns. Meanwhile, a newcomer makes his memorable debut, a young Cuban artist offers an "American Classic" and a respected bluegrass picker steps out.
In addition to "Was That My Life," Jo Dee Messina has tacked three new songs on the end
of her Greatest Hits (Curb) -- and they all boast that strong-spirited, can-do attitude that has become her signature.
"Bye Bye" and "Bring on the Rain" still get played, but it's refreshing to rediscover "Stand Beside Me" and "You're Not in
Kansas Anymore." Still, mysteries abound. No thank-you's are listed, the new songs seem to have produced themselves and one
song is credited to Writer X!
When these new young country guys try to rock out, what they're really hoping for is
that sweaty Lynyrd Skynyrd sound. So, why not go to the source? The "Sweet Home Alabama" band returns with Vicious Cycle
(Sanctuary), their first studio album in four years. Kid Rock guests on a remake of "Gimme Back My Bullets." As raucous as
ever, the Southern rock gods are also touring the U.S. this summer and filming a pay-per-view special in Nashville on July
11, which will eventually be sold as a concert DVD.
With his first hit "The Love Song," Jeff Bates has been drawing
comparisons to Conway Twitty, a fellow Mississippian. Bates' rich baritone has served him well as the opener on the Brooks
& Dunn Neon Circus & Wild West Show tour, although his songs are sometimes out-and-out ridiculous. ("My In-Laws Are Outlaws"
-- nyuk nyuk nyuk.) Bates considers himself a songwriter, too, and most of the songs on Rainbow Man (RCA) are autobiographical.
And the revealing title track ("My real mama was Apache/My real daddy, hell don't ask me") is definitely memorable. Chris
Cagle fans might like this one.
Franky Perez rocks the house -- actually, a cathedral -- in his colorful first video,
"Something Crazy." His album Poor Man's Son (Lava) is just as muscular as that first single and should appeal to those
who love songwriters with a bit of dirt under their fingernails, although the swagger from playing in a Vegas band has not
abandoned him. With its sunny and romantic feel, "American Classic" could work for a mainstream act like Kenny Chesney and
that Perez wrote many of these songs on a cross-country road trip certainly contributes to the album's breezy attitude.
a detour from the bluegrass band Blue Highway, Shawn Lane steps out with his first solo album, All for Today (Rebel).
With a soothing voice, skillful mandolin and exceptional guests like Ronnie Bowman, Jerry Douglas and Larry Sparks, All
for Today balances a quiet acoustic style with an occasional string-buster. And if you think Martina McBride's "Concrete
Angel" is sad, the title track will positively tear you up.
Other bluegrass albums this week include Eddie & Martha
Adcock's TwoGrass (Pinecastle), Paul Williams & the Victory Trio's Living on the Hallelujah Side (Rebel)
and Merle Travis in Boston 1959 (Rounder).