Pistol Annies, Sunny Sweeney Lead New Releases

Martina McBride, Willie Nelson Lend Talent to Special Projects

The Pistol Annies' Hell on Heels and Sunny Sweeney's Concrete are among the new country albums released on Tuesday (Aug. 23). Fans of longtime country stars such as Martina McBride, Willie Nelson, Connie Smith and the late Bill Monroe will also be rewarded with new music.

Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley are forging ahead with solo careers, yet they've teamed up to form a new band, the Pistol Annies. All three women take turns writing and singing on the project which they've indicated is not simply a one-time-only collaboration. Their only outside songwriting partner for the album is Lambert's husband, Blake Shelton, on the album's closing track, "Family Feud."

Sunny Sweeney's Concrete features her breakthrough hit, "From a Table Away," as well as her newest single, "Staying's Worse Than Leaving." A proud native Texan, Sweeney co-wrote seven of the album's 10 songs. The project was produced by Brett Beavers, one of Dierks Bentley's most frequent collaborators. She's been touring with Brad Paisley this summer.

Meanwhile, Martina McBride sings with Dave Stewart on his new album, The Blackbird Diaries. Stewart, who was one-half of the Eurythmics, recorded the album at Nashville's Blackbird Studios, owned by McBride and her husband John. In addition to "All Messed Up," his duet with McBride, Stewart recorded with Colbie Caillat, Stevie Nicks and the Secret Sisters.

Willie Nelson's elegant rendition of "Simply" kicks off The Best of Times, a two-disc tribute to Texas singer-songwriter Sara Hickman. The 38-song compilation also features admirers such as Shawn Colvin, Robert Earl Keen, Rhett Miller and many more. Proceeds will benefit Theatre Action Project, a nonprofit organization that brings art, music and theater to central Texas schools. Hickman has served as the official state musician of Texas.

Nelson also provides three selections to the Our Idiot Brother movie soundtrack. Two of the tracks, "Midnight Rider" and "Ol' Blue," have never been used in a film while "Wonderful Future" is a rare track that is nearly 40 years old. The collection also features "Taking You With Me," a new alt-country duet by Mindy Smith and Daniel Tashian. Fruit Bats founder Eric D. Johnson covers Tony Orlando & Dawn's 1970s classic, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree." Nathan Larson, Nina Persson (of the Cardigans) and Carole King are also on the track listing.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe, dozens of artists have contributed to new tribute albums. Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration -- A Classic Bluegrass Tribute on Rounder Records features tracks by Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, Dailey & Vincent and the Bluegrass Album Band, among many others. In addition, Rebel Records has compiled With Body and Soul: A Bluegrass Tribute to Bill Monroe and Let the Light Shine Down: A Gospel Tribute to Bill Monroe. The compilations feature the Country Gentlemen, Del McCoury, the Seldom Scene, the Stanley Brothers and Mac Wiseman.

Connie Smith's Long Line of Heartaches is the Opry star's first album of new material since 1996 and only her second since 1978. Drawing upon her sound from the 1960s and 1970s, Smith recorded the new project in RCA Victor Studio B, where she recorded her signature 1964 hit, "Once a Day." Smith and husband Marty Stuart co-wrote five of the new songs. In addition, Smith is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's artist-in-residence this year. With her invited guests, the first in the series of unique shows began Monday (Aug. 22) and continue on Aug. 29 and Sept. 12.

Other new independent releases this week include bluegrass ensemble Blue Highway's Sounds of Home, Australian country trio the McClymonts' Wrapped Up Good and alt-country combo Chet Vincent & the Big Bend's For Everyone. New albums by singer-songwriters include Ana Egge's Bad Blood, Charlie Faye's Travels With Charlie and Alexis Marceaux's Orange Moon.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the hit film O Brother, Where Art Thou, the soundtrack was reissued this week as a two-CD deluxe version containing 12 previously-unreleased tracks by John Hartford, the Cox Family, Van Dyke Parks, Alan O'Bryant, Colin Linden and others. The original soundtrack album, which sold 7.6 million copies, included "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow," a hit single by the Soggy Bottom Boys.

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