(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Before summer folds its tent and steals away at the onset of fall, here's a look at some music I'm enjoying and some things to look forward to in the near future.
Sugarland have recorded their first holiday album. Gold and Green, due Oct. 6, includes five classic Christmas season songs and five new Jennifer Nettles-Kristian Bush originals. Of the new songs, I think "City of Silver Dreams" is my favorite. It conjures up the beauty of New York City at Christmas, with snow and the lights and the city decorated. On another new one, Nettles returns to her rootsy beginnings for an R&B-flavored treatment of "Coming Home," about going home for Christmas. "Gold and Green" tells how "everything looks better in gold and green" and "Little Wood Guitar" is about the magical qualities of a little wooden guitar. And it sounds like Bush takes the lead vocal on "Maybe Baby (New Year's Day)."
I was listening to Tim McGraw's Place in the Sun the other day and it occurred to me that that album is now 10 years old. But you know what? It stands up well. And I think it's time for some new McGraw. He will finally deliver his first album of new music since the April 2007 release Let It Go with the Oct. 20 appearance of Southern Voice. McGraw has been performing some of these songs live (especially the title cut) for over a year, but complained that his new album was delayed when his label released a greatest hits album without his approval. The first single is out now, "It's a Business Doing Pleasure With You." Other songs include "I'm Only Jesus" and "If I Died Today."
In 1973, Johnny Cash gave his then 18-year-old daughter Rosanne a list of 100 songs that he considered essential to her musical education. The songs ranged from the Appalachian ballads and Southern blues that gave rise to country all the way up to 1973. Rosanne Cash has kept and studied that list and has recorded an album of her versions of 12 of them. The List, due for release on Oct. 6, is very much worth your attention. Guest singers are Bruce Springsteen (on "Sea of Heartbreak"), Elvis Costello ("Heartaches by the Number"), Jeff Tweedy ("Long Black Veil") and Rufus Wainwright ("Silver Wings").
Kris Kristofferson continues the intense musical introspection he was pursuing on the album This Old Road with his new Closer to the Bone collection, set for release Sept. 29. There are 11 examples of Kristofferson at his best, here examining his life up until now. The title track is Kris at his most poignant. And another standout among many standouts is "Good Morning John," which Kris wrote both to and about Johnny Cash, during the latter's pill days. But, I think you will also especially enjoy the hidden track, a song he wrote when he was 11. "I Hate Your Ugly Face" is very funny as he compares his ex-girlfriend to a "heifer" and more.
Neil Young brings another archival release with his Dreamin' Man, due out Nov. 2. It's a collection of live and acoustic performances of songs from 1992's Harvest Moon.
Patty Loveless' new Mountain Soul II is a showcase for her gorgeous voice. The first Mountain Soul in 2001 drew much acclaim, and deservedly so. Soul II again shows Loveless' acumen in song selection. The 15 picks here range from "Busted" to "Bramble and a Rose" to Emmylou Harris' "Diamond in My Crown." She is joined on the album by Harris, Vince Gill, Al Perkins, and Del and Ronnie McCoury. It is due for release Sept. 29.
Along with the late Vern Gosdin, Gene Watson was and still is one of the great voices of modern country music. I'm sure you've heard his classic, landmark song "Farewell Party," but there's much more to Watson. His new A Taste of the Truth has some heartbreakingly beautiful performances and he announces that country music is still alive and well (the song "We've Got a Pulse" refers to country music's pulse). There are lead vocal appearances here by Trace Adkins on "We've Got a Pulse" and Rhonda Vincent on "Staying Together." Alison Krauss adds harmony vocals on "Use Me Again."
Guy Clark is one of music's most marvelous songwriters, who also happens to be a compelling singer. His new Somedays the Song Writes You (due Sept. 22) continues a long tradition of finely-crafted songs about life and people and other matters of import. The only song here Clark didn't write or co-write is by his old Texas running buddy, the late Townes Van Zandt, whose "If I Needed You" fits Clark like one his ever-present blue denim shirts.