(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
I'm looking forward this summer to some solid music from some of country's sluggers, some true long-ball hitters. Not coincidentally, none of these artists has ever felt the need to tell you about just how country they are. About how mind-blowingly, back-road, beer-drinking, Jones-worshipping, hot-chick-loving, Jack Daniel's-chugging, awesomely-country they are. I suspect it has never occurred to them -- which is a big reason they are who they are. Plus, we have a surplus of other real and wannabe singers who can't wait to tell you just how dad-blame country they are.
Alan Jackson fans and friends will, I am certain, be very pleased with his forthcoming Thirty Miles West album. It's his 14th studio album and his first recorded project since leaving Arista Nashville for his own record label, ACR Records (in conjunction with EMI Nashville). Jackson followers are well aware of his growing penchant for self-penned introspective songs about his life and family. And Thirty Miles West will not disappoint his fans of his own written compositions.
The album is due for a June 5 release, and I'm not going to spoil the fun of waiting by telling you all about all the music. Just know there are seven co-written songs here, but none include Jackson as co-writer. Instead, there are writers along the lines of Guy Clark, Terry McBride, Shawn Camp and Al Anderson. And that's some really good stuff, songs such as "Talk Is Cheap" and "Life Keeps Bringin' Me Down."
But it's the original Jackson works that will most reach out to you. "Dixie Highway" is a nostalgia-laden look back at his childhood growing up near that famous road. (The album title refers to the fact that his hometown of Newnan, Ga., is actually 30 miles west of the actual Dixie Highway. But it sounds better in a song if you say you grew up on the Dixie Highway. Especially if you have Zac Brown dueting with you, as Jackson does.) There are some particularly sweet A.J. originals here. About "Everything but the Wings" Jackson says, "It's a song about a sweet person, and somehow I end up writing a song like this every now and then." Another one, "Her Life's a Song," is a charming tale inspired by his daughters.
But the standout song here is Jackson's "When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey)." He wrote it for his wife Denise when she discovered she had cancer, and the song traces her route through chemo and her eventual recovery. Of the song, he says, "It just came out. I felt like I needed to write it, but I never told her I did. I'm glad we recorded it, and it's on there, not only for Denise, but once you go through something like that, you run into so many people that have had the same thing happen. I feel this song will say a lot to them and they'll be able to connect with those emotions that are in there. Maybe it'll be good for some people to hear that."
The song begins with, "Ain't it funny how one minute/Your whole life's lookin' fine/And a few short words later/It just comes untied."
He previews some of the new cuts on the May 8 Grand Ole Opry show. Jackson has also been working on a duet with John Fogerty of a Creedence Clearwater Revival song for Fogerty's upcoming duets album, Wrote a Song for Everyone.
Don Williams' fans, who have long been chomping at the bits for new Williams music -- eight years' worth of chomping, in fact -- get some relief on June 19 with the release of his new album. And So It Goes. Devoted fans of the Gentle Giant will be relieved to know he and longtime producer Garth Fundis have not tampered -- after all this time -- with what works for Williams. He has the same mellow, reassuring and familiar voice and delivery and the same tight band and some songs that sound like only Don Williams should sing them. He co-wrote two of the cuts, and he's got such great songwriters as Leslie Satcher, Anthony Smith, Jamie O'Hara and Kieran Kane. Several of his admirers, including Alison Krauss, Vince Gill and Keith Urban, drop in and add their talents. But some things in the music world don't need tinkering with. Don Williams is one of those. Long may he rule.
Marty Stuart has long been both the memory and the conscience of country music. He came to Nashville from rural Mississippi 40 years ago deeply steeped in the worlds of Southern gothic and bluegrass and Johnny Cash and Memphis rock 'n' roll and traditional Nashville country. All of that is weaved together in Nashville, Vol. 1: Tear the Woodpile Down.
It ends very fittingly with Marty dueting with Hank Williams III on the latter's grandfather's haunting "Picture From Life's Other Side."
"When I first came to Nashville ... the most outlaw thing you could possibly do around here," says Stuart, "was to take country music and blow it up into rock 'n' roll. Mission accomplished! Today, the most outlaw thing you can possibly do in Nashville, Tenn., is play country music."