New Progressive Country Albums From the Derailers and Robert Earl Keen

Major Bluegrass CDs by Ricky Skaggs and Blue Highway

The wings of progressive country and bluegrass are well represented in new country album releases this week. New works from Robert Earl Keen and the Derailers represent the alt-country movement in Texas, and acclaimed bluegrass artists Ricky Skaggs and Blue Highway have new CDs.

Keen’s Gravitational Forces is his ninth album and his first on Lost Highway Records. It was produced by Keen with Texas producer Gurf Morlix and Nashville producer Ray Kennedy. Keen’s usual off-center approach is exemplified in a song such as “My Home Ain’t in the Hall of Fame.”

Here Come the Derailers, from the flamboyant group that was formed in 1993, is the group’s first album on Nashville’s Lucky Dog Records, a Sony Music Nashville label. The song “Bar Exam” is a good example of their witty Texas take on country.

After two albums for Sony’s Lucky Dog imprint, Texas-based singer-songwriter Bruce Robison releases Country Sunshine on his own label, Boar’s Nest Records. Robison is the author of Tim McGraw’s current hit, “Angry All the Time.” His new collection includes songs co-written with Martie Seidel of the Dixie Chicks, Allison Moorer and his wife, Kelly Willis.

Keen includes a Townes Van Zandt tune on his new album, and Keen contributes a track, “Mr. Mudd & Mr. Gold,” to Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt, a collection honoring the legacy of the late Texas singer-songwriter. Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and Willie Nelson also are among those on the new set from FreeFalls Entertainment.

Alt-country favorite Phil Lee began drawing a coterie of fans with his 1999 debut album The Mighty King of Love on Shanachie Records. His new work You Should Have Known Me Then, also on Shanachie, again draws on producer Richard Bennett.

Another alt-country poster boy, Kentucky native Chris Knight, re-emerges with A Pretty Good Guy, his first in three years, on DualTone Records. Dan Baird, the former Georgia Satellite, produced the set.

Skaggs’ History of the Future on his Skaggs Family Records label, is a mix of traditional bluegrass classics and new original material, what he has called his “bluegrass music, in-your-face with attitude at thrash metal volume.”

The bluegrass group Blue Highway’s new Still Climbing Mountains on Rounder Records was produced by the veteran Jerry Douglas. The album continues the group’s blend of traditional and contemporary bluegrass.

The late John Hartford’s last original album is Hamilton Ironworks by John Hartford & the Hartford String Band on Rounder Records. The Stringband includes Bob Carlin, Mike Compton, Larry Perkins and Chris Sharp, with Carlin producing.

Traditional country music icon Gene Watson continues his string of staunchly country releases with From the Heart on RMG Records. Watson is joined by such instrumentalists as steel guitarist Buddy Emmons and mandolinist/fiddler Aubrey Haynie on such songs as “No Trash in My Trailer” and the classics “Take Me as I Am or Let Me Go” and “I Never Go Around Mirrors.”

Re-issues this week include works by western swing pioneer Bob Wills, contemporary legend Merle Haggard, folk/country giant Doc Watson and the veteran bluegrass duo the Osborne Brothers. The Original Columbia Recordings Vol. II from Wills is on Rounder Records, Haggard’s Train Whistle Blues: Classic Railroad Songs Vol. 5 is on Rounder Records, The Essential Osborne Brothers Collection is on C.M.H. and Watson’s live album At Gerdes Folk City is on Sugar Hill Records.

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