If you've been following country music for a while, your loyalty is about to be rewarded. Over the next few months, longtime listeners will be treated to new music by some very familiar faces (and voices).
Ronnie Dunn will issue his first-ever solo album. Brad Paisley will submit his first project since winning the CMA entertainer of the year award in 2010. Plus, Country Music Hall of Fame member Emmylou Harris will offer a new collection of original songs while Randy Travis joins a batch of talented pals for a milestone anniversary album. New projects from Rosanne Cash, Steve Earle, Foster & Lloyd and many more are also destined for stores.
Following two decades of Brooks & Dunn's multi-platinum status, Dunn's self-titled solo project arrives June 7 on Arista Nashville. Dunn wrote or co-wrote nine of the 12 songs. At a free show prior to the ACM Awards earlier this month, he told the audience he and his band are traveling in one bus. "I have to say, I'm sure enjoying feeling 'new' all over again," he stated in press materials for the album. His first single, "Bleed Red," is already headed toward the Top 10.
Paisley will issue This Is Country Music on May 23, also on Arista Nashville. His latest single, "Old Alabama," features a guest turn from three members of the influential ensemble he named the song after. Paisley also joins Carrie Underwood on a love song called "Remind Me." Other friends on the 15-track album include Sheryl Crow, Blake Shelton and Marty Stuart. Clint Eastwood whistles on an instrumental track appropriately titled "Eastwood."
Travis also gathered his buddies to mark his 25-year career. Set for release by Warner Bros. Nashville, Anniversary Celebration boasts duets with Paisley and Underwood, as well as Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, George Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Shelby Lynne, Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson and Josh Turner. Kenny Chesney covers "He Walked on Water" with Travis, with the Zac Brown Band teaming with Travis for a remake of his country classic, "Forever and Ever, Amen."
Harris wrote 11 new songs for her latest project, Hard Bargain, on Nonesuch Records. She recorded the album in approximately a month with producer Jay Joyce. Harris included two odes to her late friends Kate McGarrigle ("Darlin' Kate") and Gram Parsons ("The Road"). She also covers two outside songs -- Joyce's "Cross Yourself" and Ron Sexsmith's "Hard Bargain."
Earle, the singer-songwriter whose past three albums have won Grammys, returns with a project of original material titled I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive on April 26 on New West Records. After several solo acoustic tours, he now plans to travel extensively with his acclaimed electric band, the Dukes. He duets with wife Allison Moorer on "Heaven or Hell."
Cash's enduring career gets a double-disc recap with The Essential Rosanne Cash, due May 24 on Columbia/Legacy. The anthology begins with a track from her 1978 debut on a German label, then follows the Grammy-winning singer's career through her 11 No. 1 hits in the 1980s (such as "Seven Year Ache") as well as her recent releases at Capitol/EMI.
Like Cash, Earle, Harris and Travis, innovative duo Foster & Lloyd enjoyed significant mainstream success in the 1980s. After well-received reunion shows in Nashville, the "Crazy Over You" duo got back together for their first album of new material in more than 20 years. It's Already Tomorrow arrives on May 17 on their own imprint, 'Effin 'El Records.
If you have your ears tuned to new talent, you can prepare for Frankie Ballard's debut album, featuring "A Buncha Girls," on Warner Bros. Nashville on May 24. Ballard will open shows for Taylor Swift this spring. In addition, Ashton Shepherd ("Look It Up") returns with her sophomore project on MCA Nashville on July 12.
On the spiritual side, the Blind Boys of Alabama enlisted Jamey Johnson to co-produce their first country-gospel album, Take the High Road, due May 3 on Saguaro Road. With the ensemble rooted in 70 years of gospel music, they made the rafters ring with country artists like Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, the Oak Ridge Boys, Hank Williams Jr. and Lee Ann Womack.
For folks who study the songwriter credits, get ready for long-awaited albums by Matraca Berg and J.D. Souther. A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Berg continues to write from a wise feminine perspective. In addition to co-writing Deana Carter's "Strawberry Wine," Berg's material has been embraced by the Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless, Gretchen Wilson and Trisha Yearwood, among many others. Her first album in 14 years, The Dreaming Fields arrives May 17 on Dualtone. Meanwhile, Souther has only released two albums in the last 25 years. Set for release May 31 on eOne Music, Natural History features new recordings of his original country-rock songs, including two of his hits for the Eagles -- "New Kid in Town" and "The Best of My Love."
In addition to Ralph Stanley's recently-released A Mother's Prayer (Rebel Records), bluegrass fans will also want to pick up new releases by Louisa Branscomb's I'll Take Love (Compass, April 26); NewFound Road's Live at the Down Home (Rounder, April 26), Sarah Jarosz' Follow Me Down (Sugar Hill, May 17) and the Greencards' The Brick Album (self-released, June 21).