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New Releases: Marty, Buddy, Willie and Ray
It's never a good idea to count out Marty Stuart. True, he may not be the hit-making presence of the early 1990s, but the stylish singer should patent his hillbilly rock thing.

Stuart's previous album The Pilgrim delivered a devastating story, and it's a shame that few people ever heard it. Now, Stuart is focusing his energy on Country Music (Columbia), and it's a treasure. The hypnotic rhythms and passionate singing prove that Stuart's not merely going through the motions. Merle Haggard makes a welcome appearance on "Farmer's Blues," a song Stuart wrote with wife Connie Smith. Bonus: The first pressings of Country Music include a DVD with archival and interview footage. Here's hoping Stuart's fine return to form finds a wide and appreciative audience.

Buddy Jewell has sung more than 4,000 demos, but it's the songs he's written himself that sparkle on his self-titled debut album (Columbia). His voice is supple, kind of like Gentry without the Montgomery. Because Jewell won the TV show Nashville Star, he wound up with Clint Black as his producer, and the partnership works. However, the cover of "Today I Started Loving You Again," sung with runner-up Miranda Lambert, is wholly unnecessary. Prediction: "Help Pour Out the Rain (Lacey's Song)" comes close, but "Why We Said Goodbye" goes all the way to No.1.

Why did Willie Nelson and Ray Price decide to record a new duet album? For the good times! Ha! But seriously, folks, Run That by Me One More Time (Lost Highway) earns high marks for its sincerity, and the old-fashioned country songs are nothing but cool. Although Nelson and Price are both County Music Hall of Famers, it wouldn't surprise me to see this album attract disheveled young men in ironic T-shirts and young women with cowgirl purses and Veronica Lake hairstyles. For people who claim there's no such thing as country music anymore, this pleasant album simply proves them wrong.

Tracy Byrd submits another album that's heavy on silliness, titled The Truth About Men (RCA). Maybe nobody else remembers what a good vocalist he was in the 1990s, with "Keeper of the Stars," "Love Letters" or "Heaven in My Woman's Eyes." But for those who do, this is yet another frustrating attempt by a talented singer striving to stay commercial. If you think a song called "Drinkin' Bone" is cute, then here you go.

After numerous encounters at music festivals, country songwriter Jim Lauderdale and acoustic jam band Donna the Buffalo decided to share the love. Wait 'Til Spring (Skycrunch) features 11 new Lauderdale compositions and one of the strangest album covers so far this year. (Word of warning: Although Lauderdale and Ralph Stanley won a 2003 Grammy in a bluegrass category, this particular collaboration is by no means a bluegrass album.)

If bluegrass is your thing, don't overlook Andy Leftwich. His solo debut Ride (Skaggs Family) possesses the youthful exuberance of Nickel Creek's first record but without the vocals. Still, along with his formidable picking talent, he wrote nearly the whole record and produced it, too. Although he's currently in Ricky Skaggs' touring band, the future for this 21-year-old's solo career looks quite promising.
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