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Articles and Interviews – 2003


The number of female vocalists who also have strong reputations as songwriters is relatively small in country music. Dolly Parton, certainly. Loretta Lynn, too. In most cases, though, gifted female vocalists have traditionally either looked elsewhere for their songs, or tend to write for themselves.

For the past 35 years Leona Williams has been one of the more gifted female singer/songwriters in country.

Although she's only had one major hit as a vocalist (1978's number 8 hit "The Bull and the Beaver," a duet with then-husband Merle Haggard), she was a regular mid-level chart fixture from the late '60s until the mid-'80s.

Just as importantly, Williams' compositions appeared regularly on other artists' albums in those days, most notably on records by Merle Haggard. Her compositions have also been recorded by the likes of George Jones, Gene Watson, Johnny Bush, Moe Bandy, Tammy Wynette, Hank Thompson, Connie Smith, Willie Nelson, Randy Travis, Lynn and others.... »»»

Nothing like a little bit of controversy to jump-start your musical career. In the case of Josh Turner, the controversy stemmed from his video of the title track and first single from his debut, "Long Black Train."

The video depicts people with serious problems, like a pregnant teen, a gambler and a homeless down and outer, standing in the middle of a train track. At the end of the video, a long black train goes through each of them, but they are still standing after the train passes.

The depiction managed to draw the ire of train industry groups. The American Public Transportation Association, the Association of American Railroads and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers were none too happy that the train was involved. They wrote CMT and GAC, asking them to stop airing the video.

And Operation Lifesaver, which works to prevent accidents between trains and vehicles, did not like the video because of it supposedly showing suicide as a potential way out of problems.... »»»

The cast of characters backing up longtime Opry mainstay Jeannie Seely on her new OMS release "Life's Highways" is chock-full of top level bluegrass talent that includes not only contemporary Nashville session aces like Glen Duncan and Rob Ickes, but historic names like Josh Graves and Jesse McReynolds as well. For all that, though, Seely prefers to think of it as an "acoustic" album.

"Simply out of respect for the true bluegrass artists, I wouldn't even venture to call it that. You know, I don't pretend to be able to do (bluegrass)," she says.

Her husky laughter charges through the phone line from her home in the Nashville area with the same force and delivery that's made her a formidable Opry stage presence since this Pennsylvania native hit Music City nearly four decades ago.

"I mean, certainly there is nothing about my voice that you could call the 'high lonesome' sound. I wish my voice was more like that. In fact, there was a time in my life when I idolized Jean Shepherd so... »»»

Jason Ringenberg has transformed himself into Farmer Jason for his new "A Day At The Farm With Farmer Jason" album. On the CD cover, he's illustrated as an animated figure racing out of the barn atop a souped-up John Deere tractor. The package also includes a warning sticker that reads, "Parental Advisory: This CD contains songs that will have you singing along with your kids."

That's right, moms and dads and boys and girls, "A Day At The Farm With Farmer Jason" is Ringenberg's farm-centered first children's album.

Speaking on the night before Thanksgiving via phone while out and about running errands, Ringenberg says, "We won't be eating turkey, that's for sure. We'll be having tofu turkey because we're organic vegetarians."

This farmer - albeit a self-described hobbyist farmer - is certainly not a carnivorous farmer. And maybe that's why there's so much love in his voice when he's singing about chickens ("A Guitar Pickin' Chicken"), horses ("Whoa There Pony!"), cows ("I'm Just An Old Cow"), pigs ("He's A Hog Hog Hog") dogs ("The Doggie Dance"), cats ("Little Kitty") and sheep ("Hey Little Lamb").... »»»

"No prophet gains acceptance in his native land." - Luke 4: 24

When the boy who later became Barrence Whitfield (born Barry White) sang in his New Jersey church's gospel choir, he undoubtedly heard the preacher tell the story of Jesus' ill-fated reception in his homeland. Little did he know that the bible story would prove to be a metaphor for his own unique career.

It's a shame that so many of America's rock, soul, and blues legends are treated better in Europe than they are at home. Labeled a journeyman and a cult R&B act in the States, Whitfield has developed a rabid fan base in Great Britain, Norway, Belgium and Holland where crowded concert halls and sold-out shows are the norm when he performs as the leader of Barrence Whitfield and The Savages.

Now, the Boston-based soul screamer known for his high-energy shows is seeking to expand his reputation with a new release and a new band. Recording as lead singer of The Mercy Brothers, formed with Michael Dinallo, their new... »»»

Controversy clings to Toby Keith like fleas flock to hound dogs. The more he barks the more they bite. Songs recorded and comments made by the burly Oklahoman since 9/11 riled Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines to the point of verbal warfare between the two.

But Keith v. Maines, that's history folks. They've not made up and sure aren't likely to anytime soon, but today's a new day. Yesterday, as Kris Kristofferson once wrote, is dead and gone.

So now Keith loads up with a new album, "Shock 'N Y'all." The 42-year-old Oklahoman's disc debuted at number 1 on Billboard's Top 200 and Top Country Albums charts. First-week sales totaled a whopping 585,000 units sold, according to Soundscan. The first single, "I Love this Bar" rests comfortably in the top slot on Billboard's country singles chart.

Platinum-selling albums. Sold-out concerts. Keith's hotter than a blue tick hound on a quick critter's trail.

"That's the way the public casts their vote, right there," Keith says by... »»»

On the morning of Nov. 15, the story of one of the top studio teams in the history of country music came to a close with the death of steel guitarist Wesley "Speedy" West at the age of 79.

Although West hadn't performed in 20 years, during his long career he'd played on literally thousands of sessions for hundreds of artists - mainly country performers, but also occasionally with pop acts like Bing Crosby, Kay Starr and Spike Jones.

At the center of his reputation, though, is several dozen hot bebop-influenced instrumentals recorded for Capitol between 1950 and 1956 with guitarist Jimmy Bryant.

The recordings made by the West/Bryant team (which also usually included bassist Cliffie Stone, rhythm guitarist Billy Strange and drummer Roy Harte) were a groundbreaking mix of country and jazz; clearly influenced by western swing, but outpacing even the most radical recordings made by Bob Wills' Texas Playboys and Spade Cooley's Orchestra in the mid-'40s. West's wild volume swells and pedal tricks provided the perfect accompaniment to Bryant's precise, breakneck lead guitar work.... »»»

By all logical rights, the Bottle Rockets should have been reading eulogies written about them rather than the glowing reviews and feature articles documenting their contentious existence. At any number of points along the band's decade-long history (and the 20 year association between various members), the Bottle Rockets could very easily have imploded, regarded enough to pique curiosity about the band's absence, but not renowned enough to inspire VH1 inquiries into their whereabouts.

But through all of the trials and tribulations both internal and external, the Bottle Rockets (guitarist/vocalist Brian Henneman, bassist Robert Kearns, drummer Mark Ortmann) have not only endured, but ultimately triumphed.

Nearly from the beginning, the band has been subjected to a litany of soul sucking problems that wouldn't be out of place in a Greek tragedy. Broken label deals, long stretches of inactivity, personnel defections and personal upheaval have all conspired to retire the band, and yet the Bottle Rockets have defied the odds and weathered every storm.... »»»

Don't accuse of Rick Trevino of being an "Overnight Success," the leadoff song on his new album, "In My Dreams," his first major label album in six years.

The song details life on the road about the long drives "to Oklahoma and Arizona/what's a thousand miles or two/for a big star/in an old car."

But the song title is actually deceiving because Trevino also sings "it's been living on easy street/it's all worked out so perfectly/it's just part of the life I guess/of an overnight success."

If only life were so easy for the Texan, who rose to prominence as the first Latino to hit the country charts in about 15 years when he struck it rich in the mid-'90s with half a dozen hit songs.

When Trevino first hit the charts, he was a young lad of only 22 and on the start of a pretty good roll.

But the "easy street" didn't last forever. Trevino changed gears, went back to his Mexican roots with a super group and later his own album before resurfacing with "In My Dreams" with Mavericks... »»»

Country music contains plenty of memorable male-female duet partners: Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette and George Jones, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, and to an extent these days, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.

One of the latest entries into the male-female duo partnership has something different going for them. In fact, Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez could be among the most unique pairings ever.

Taylor is a Yonkers, N.Y.-born-and-raised songwriter who penned such classics as "Angel of the Morning" and the rock anthem "Wild Thing." The brother of actor Jon Voigt, his songs have been covered by a vast array of performers, from Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix to Frank Sinatra to the rock band The Pretenders.

He's also a recovering gambler - apparently a good one at that - who left music behind in the mid-1980s for his newfound passion. Yet Taylor, 63, ultimately threw in his cards in 1995, renewing his music career to considerable critical acclaim in the U.S. and Europe.... »»»

"There's lots of ups and downs in the music business, and about the time you get a good sound going, your personnel changes." So says bandleader and sole proprietor ("I've got a D.B.A license - doing business as") Karl Shiflett of Big Country Show.

Right on the heels of his third and best CD for Rebel Records, "Worries On My Mind," the nucleus of his crackerjack acoustic country band - including banjo-picking chief songwriter Jake Jenkins - have departed.

Speaking from his booking agent's home in Columbia, Tenn., Shiflett says the parting was not bitter. "No, no. Not at all. (Jenkins) got married a couple of years ago, and then he had a child. Just this last year, he had another child."

"We've been out there 10 years, but still it's a struggle. In order to make enough money to support a family, you have to be gone all the time. We tried balancing it out where we could be out two or three days a week and be home two or three days. That didn't work. We tried everything that we... »»»

After a good run on the country charts, Patty Loveless found herself in an unaccustomed setting. For a good eight years, she was almost always at the top of the country charts.

But as befalls many artists, things started going the other way.

Instead of attempting to go for the commercial jugular and back where she belonged, Loveless went in a very very different direction - her eastern Kentucky roots and bluegrass/mountain/Appalachian music with "Mountain Soul" in 2001.

For some, that could have been the end of a relationship with a record company as well because in these trying economic times, no sales means no record deal.

The album probably would not have had much chance at the cash register under ordinary circumstances.

Of course, those were not ordinary times. "Mountain Soul" certainly was not a commercial album, but it sure came out at the right time.

The "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack had been released about seven months before "Mountain Soul" and done fantastic numbers surprising just about anyone and everyone.... »»»

The alter-ego concept - where an artist records or performs under a different identity, either with or without the artist's fans being aware of the charade - is one of the older conventions in rock 'n' roll.

In the mid-'80s, the British band XTC recorded two brilliant albums of '60s psychedelic pop under the guise of the Dukes of Stratosphear.

Former Beatle Paul McCartney has made a handful of electronica recordings (with Killing Joke bassist Youth) as The Fireman.

And even Cher recorded a hard rock album in 1980 as Black Rose, going so far as to tour behind the album and refusing to acknowledge her actual identity in interviews at the time.

Such examples are similarly numerous in country music. Garth Brooks' turn as Chris Gaines is certainly the best known to modern audiences, but examples go back to country music's earliest days. Vernon Dalhart - who recorded country music's first million-seller, "Wreck of the Old 97," in 1924 - recorded under literally dozens of different names over the course of his career.... »»»

Today's country music radio isn't so country these days. Since the ascendance of the Shania Twains and Faith Hills, steel guitar solos have mostly fallen victim to the ear-splitting ravages of loud heavy metal-like guitars. Vocal distinction has mostly given way to strivings for mediocrity. And the songs are almost always co-written by folks more familiar with The Eagles, Kiss and Joni Mitchell than Merle Haggard, Harlan Howard and Tom T. Hall.

So what's available for a hard-core country singer and songwriter of strength like Texan Rodney Hayden?

If radio won't have him, then who will? How in tarnation can he expect to garner a following to sustain a career if no one has a solid chance of hearing his music? Imagine making a product, a high quality product, and then having so few ways to market it. That's sort of the dilemma that Hayden and folks of his ilk face nowadays.

Enter Audium Records. Nashville's leading purveyor of traditional country music circa 2003 added to its roster of the likes of Ray Price and Dwight Yoakam when it signed Hayden and recently issued his second album, "Living the Good Life."... »»»

Eastmountainsouth's self-titled debut release is a singer/songwriter album, incorporating touches of folk, country and bluegrass along the way.

But it's the culmination of a musical journey that could hardly have been predicted when you stop to consider the unique artistic paths of its two members. After tracing these roots, you may find yourself saying something like, 'They couldn't have gotten there from here,' but somehow they still arrived at this mystical region they call Eastmountainsouth anyhow.

Prior to meeting Kat Maslich, the female half of the duo, Peter Adams earned a bachelor in music from the University of the South in Tennessee before taking home a master's degree from the University Of Alabama School Of Music in Tuscaloosa.

After that, the Alabama native spent the later part of '90s in Los Angeles studying film scoring at USC. It was during one of his professional scoring sessions that he first met Maslich, who had already traveled extensively from her Roanoke, Va. roots in search of her musical calling and even spent time as a member of various punk bands.... »»»

Death didn't come first for Carl Smith. Unlike some his peers, most noticeably Webb Pierce, Smith lived to see his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Floyd Cramer did not. Inducted with Smith as 1 of only 2 members chosen for induction this year, the legendary piano man and member of the famed "A-Team" of Nashville session musicians, died 5 years ago at age 65.

No one argues the selection of either man to the hall of fame and certainly not Nashville's WSM radio personality and Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs.

"I feel like justice has been served in the case of Carl Smith," Stubbs says by phone from his Nashville home. "I feel like two of the great disgraces in the history of the Country Music Hall of Fame have been rectified now. One with Webb Pierce going into the Hall of Fame back in 2001 and now with Carl Smith going in. As I said, I feel like justice has been served."

Country singer Patty Loveless was pleasantly surprised when she learned of the announcements of Smith and Cramer's election to the Hall of Fame.... »»»

Sure Thad Cockerell's music has that certain twang to it, but he hopes you'll take a closer listen to "Warmth & Beauty," his second and latest album.

"I think they are think they are really good songs, and there's no reason to hide behind a bunch of pedal steel all over the place," he says. "This alt.-country, whatever that is, 98 percent of songs in that genre are just completely ridiculous. The only reason why people would consider them is that they are really country music fans because it sounds so country. But you can't have a great country record if you don't have great country songs."

"Warmth & Beauty" is laced with high lonesome vocals and the intimate feeling of sitting right in front of the stage at an intimate nightclub.

Check out a song like "Why Go," a song that sounds like it mixes brushed-drums and acoustic guitars to achieve a clean-cut effect: just the singer and the song.

The album's best moments are stark and solid, and some parts of the disc might remind listeners of some of Neil Young's best moments from "After The Gold Rush" or "Tonight's The Night." Or perhaps Gram Parsons crooning a song like "She."... »»»

Merle Haggard calls his latest album "Haggard Like Never Before," but he's not slowing down, nor has he completely tamed his well-publicized fighting side. Let's face it: far too many artists put it into autopilot, so to speak, once they reach their twilight years.

But Haggard clearly never got that cautionary little memo; he's still adding to his legacy by writing and recording new songs and not nearly ready to stop and rest on his laurels. With this in mind, the "Haggard" in his album title should be read as a noun, not an adjective.

Believe it or not, Haggard is still working at perfecting his craft. Yes, even the best of the best can still find room for improvement, according to Haggard. "There's more experience," Haggard says of his music today. "We've grown more accomplished in our entire endeavor. We write better. We play better. The only thing wrong with us is we don't look as good."

But seriously, Haggard continues to challenge himself with the whole music making... »»»

The Mavericks have not exactly been lying around for four years plotting their next step.

For starters, lead singer and writer Raul Malo put out a Latin-influenced solo album in 2001, toured behind it and produced albums for other artists.

Bassist Robert Reynolds worked on other projects including a side band, and drummer Paul Deakin also was tied up with musical endeavors.

But now The Mavericks along with new guitarist Eddie Perez are back with a new, self-titled album on a new label.

And as has been the case for the feisty Mavericks, this band is not strictly country, but explores various elements including The Beatles, some Latin sounds, rock, roots and country.

So why get together now after what was at varying times deemed a band on hiatus or a band in music heaven?"In between recording my solo record and touring and producing Rick's (Trevino) record, I had this batch of songs, that at the end of the day sounded like a Mavs record," says Malo in a telephone interview from his hotel room in Austin, Texas. "The process was the same. Now we're going back because the music sounds like a Mavs record."... »»»

Country music has often seemed like a family business since its earliest days. The Carter Family, the Delmore Brothers, the Wilburn Brothers, Jim and Jesse, Bill and Charlie Monroe, the Browns and even modern superstar acts like Alabama have all been family affairs.

Few family acts have been as influential as the Louvin Brothers, however. Between 1955 (when they began recording secular material) and their breakup in 1963, Ira and Charlie Louvin scored a dozen top 40 country hits; still covered to this day by contemporary acts with even a passing interest in the roots of country music, perhaps most notably on "Livin', Lovin', Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers."

Released in late September on Universal South, the album features a star-studded cast of performers covering a total of 16 Louvin Brothers songs. Pairings include Marty Stuart and Del McCoury on "Let Us Travel, Travel... »»»

Sometimes big breaks happen in the most unlikely ways.

Comparing Ben Atkins to Mariah Carey is probably an exercise in futility, but let's try anyway. Ms. Carey's story is famous. She somehow managed to get a tape of her singing into the hands of a prominent executive at Columbia Records. Atkins' own story is not nearly as Hollywood-ready, but it still packs some punch.

"I had just finished up with school this last May," he recounts. "I went down to Austin to record this record. By the time I finished mastering and mixing and all this stuff, I didn't have enough money to issue it by myself."

He and some pals thought of HighTone Records, the West Coast record label well known to aficionados of roots music.

"We were all big Buddy and Julie fans," he says, making a reference to Buddy and Julie Miller who are on HighTone. "We sent it out there, and one thing led to another, and that's how we got to here."

Atkins, 24, is a young man apparently living one of this nation's big dreams - getting out a record and touring behind it.... »»»

In many ways, regardless of the musical genre, it's the imminent release of the second album that provides more excitement and satisfaction than the first. Whether major label, independent or basement studio, most anyone these days can put out that first album.

In the close-knit world of bluegrass, the release of a follow-up album on a highly respected independent label like Virginia-based Rebel Records might suggest the unfolding emergence of an up-and-coming band of previously unknown young talents, but in the case of Rock County, their new "Rock Solid" represents another chapter in the ongoing, varied careers of five veteran pickers.

For the band's founder, 48-year-old fiddle virtuoso Glen Duncan, the band's success validates the decision he made to make the bluegrass circuit a big part of his life again.

For most of the past three decades, the Indiana native has been one of the premier Nashville session musicians, with album credits almost certainly numbering well into four digits. By his own estimate, at his peak "I was doing five, six hundred sessions a year."... »»»

Five years of steady gigs at amusement parks, festivals and a spate of corporate events. Not a bad way to make a living for a bluegrass band, even in these post-"O Brother Where Art Thou" days.

But making a comfortable income from a successful and quite interesting five-year career wasn't enough for the bluegrass quintet Pine Mountain Railroad. The band decided in 2002 it was time to step out of the comfort zone they'd built for themselves and offer their licks to the world beyond company functions and a substantial, but, well, limited following throughout the Southeast.

Their debut on revered old-time West Coast bluegrass label CMH is a darn good start. Though Pine Mountain Railroad had released two albums on the regional Copper Moon label, their latest is something of a bold step for both the band and their new label.

"CMH has been out of using live acts for a while," said Pine Mountain Railroad co-founder Kipper Stitt while sitting on a tour bus with a blown thermostat.... »»»

This deep into his career, Brad Paisley probably could be accused of having a little mud on the tires.

Not only is that the title of his third album - and his first to hit the top of the charts - but maybe it was his experience that enabled Paisley to finish the recording quickly.

"With this one, we were trying to get it done more than anything," says Paisley in a phone interview from eastern Tennessee, explaining his goals for the album. "I think what probably shaped what became of this album more than anything is that we didn't have as much time to do it as others. It didn't mean we weren't prepared. We just didn't have time. I had been touring so much. I didn't have the kind of luxury of a year off and on time that I had on the first two albums. This time, we crammed it into a few months really. That's not a long time."

But having less time didn't mean there was less creativity or the opportunity to do things differently.

"It definitely changed in the sound of it in a good... »»»

Sisters Shaunna and Kristina Larkin might look like typical All-American college girls spending their school vacations working summer jobs and spending evenings hanging out at the mall, but for these natives of Church Hill, Tenn., the summer of 2003 finds them not only caught up in the ongoing demands of cruising the festival circuit with the family bluegrass band, but embarking on a career in their own right as country music artists, The Larkins, signaled by the release of their self-titled debut CD on Audium.

"Right now, at this particular moment, neither one of us are going to college," says Shaunna, at 21, the elder sister by 2 years. "We've been traveling so much in the past two years that it would be pretty impossible for us to go right now. We've been really, really busy, and we're going pretty much non-stop, though we kind of slow down in December. So, right now we're just doing music full time as a career."

If that makes the sisters sound a little bit too much like seasoned, road-weary professionals twice their age, Kristina is quick to dispel the notion that they've grown old too soon.... »»»

Claire Holley's new release for indie Yep Roc Records is titled "Dandelion."

Much like that plant, which looks like a flower, but is really a weed, Holley makes music that is difficult to categorize in one particular genre. Even she finds placing her music in a genre to be a tasking undertaking.

"I would probably just call myself a singer/songwriter," she says in a telephone interview from California where she was touring in support of the new album. "I know that includes somebody like Dave Matthews, and I'm not like him. I suppose more accurately it might be roots-based Americana - if those terms aren't the same thing."

Certainly the music on the new disc supports the contention that she has a lot of different sounds in her head and in her heart. "I dabble in a lot of different music," she says.

There is music on "Dandelion" that is folk, some that is country and some more that could be termed pop or rock. There is even an instrumental, "Tread Softly," a unique inclusion for a singer/songwriter.... »»»

If you listen to the new "Decoration Day" album by Drive-By Truckers, and you're not hurting a little bit by album's end, then you probably weren't really paying attention. From a listener's perspective, this album is truly an example of no pain, no gain.

Because underneath its blanket of raw Southern rock - sans even a hint of that style's blissfully ignorant hedonism - these Truckers weigh down their song characters with oversized loads of emotional baggage. Along the way, brides-to-be get left at the altar, sons sadly follow in their father's weary footsteps, and life is never what you might term happy-go-lucky.

This group is blessed with an abundance of talent. Although lead singer Patterson Hood has contributed the lion's share of songs to the quintet's albums, both guitarists Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell also write extremely fine songs. For example, one of Isbell's pieces became the album's title cut, and his track "Outfit" may just be the best song of all, on an album already packed with memorable tunes.... »»»


It's the one word Big Al Downing uses to sum up his career. One of only three relatively well-known black country singers, the Oklahoma-born piano pounder has persevered through 45 years as a professional entertainer.

Although not a household name, he enjoys an overseas rockabilly following, had a number 1 disco hit and scored with a neat string of late '70s/early '80s Top 40 country hits.

Now 63, Downing has released his first album of new material in over a decade, "One Of A Kind," on the Arizona-based Hayden's Ferry label. The self-penned album personifies the musical diversity first shaped in the Oklahoma hayfields.

"All my family, my brothers and everybody, we were all sharecroppers," explains Downing from his Leicester, Mass. home. "What we did was if somebody needed a field of hay brought in, we'd go out and mow it and stack it and put it in the 50-foot-high barns or whatever they needed. Also, we'd go up and get permission from the big farms to look for... »»»

"There are really only two things in life," Rodney Crowell says. "What you make of it and what it makes of you. And I think that for the most part it's what I make of it, but there are times when, as in the song 'Fate's Right Hand,' there's a real examination of what happens when it all just overwhelms you. And what happens when the silly oversexed kid that you were grows up."

Crowell took a long, clear-eyed yet sympathetic look at that youth on "The Houston Kid," the 2001 album that marked his return to recording on his own after a 7-year hiatus, but the new album, he says, is altogether different.

"'The Houston Kid' was sort of a memoir about where I was. But on the new record, these songs are more about the question, where am I? I didn't necessarily set out to write them that way; I don't usually point the songs. But they just started to come about."

The result is a set of songs that show the artist both looking within himself for understanding and engaging the outer,... »»»

Jim Gaddis, lead singer and songwriter of the Boston-based band Cash Monies and the Jetsetter, has a tone as easy to listen to as one of the songs from this country-rock band, which mixes bluesy swagger with blue-collar appeal.

The band's second disc, "Thinkin' Out Loud," has been out for five months now, and Gaddis is in the midst of touring and thinking - and lots more is in store.

"Our first record was a lot more country than this last one. This one is more rootsy," a condition he attributes to two factors - songwriting and the presence of former Georgia Satellite Dan Baird behind the knobs. "A lot of that was Dan's thing. He came in with an arsenal of guitars, and he was like, 'Let's put some fire under it.' The songs didn't change at all. They just got a little harder. It was going to be a little more rock and roll anyway. We just felt like going that way with the second one. The songs are a little more aggressive."

How did Baird come on board? Chalk it up to a Nashville visit during one of Cash Monies' recent tours.... »»»

What in the world was Dierks Bentley thinking when his first single rocketed up the country singles charts?

"I'm surprised in that it's the music industry, and things never seem to work out as they should," says Bentley in a telephone interview from Nashville about "What Was I Thinkin'," his catchy, twangy Top 5 hit.

"I hope this doesn't sound egotistical," he says. "I think we made a great record. A great record. A team doesn't go to a game not to win the Super Bowl. I feel lucky, and I feel really honored."

"I'm just pleased more than anything else," says Bentley, talking in mid-August just before the release of his self-titled debut. That also did quite well on the charts, debuting fourth for sales.

The single is a humorous one from the get go with Bentley, who co-wrote it with producer Brett Beavers and fellow artist Deric Ruttan, singing "Becky was a beauty from South Alabama/her daddy had a heart like a nine-pound hammer/think he even did a little time in the slammer/what was I thinkin'"... »»»

When an album is called "Country Music," the singer had better make good on the claim.

Marty Stuart was not exactly worried about coming through. No need to worry that Stuart was going to go soft with a pop country sound.

In fact, the Philadelphia, Miss. native is a stalwart and die hard supporter of country music as he knew it.

"Well, that's what it is," says Stuart, 45, in a phone interview from Nashville when asked why he called his new album "Country Music."

"I don't know what it is, but it seems like every time I make a record and it's probably my fault because people keep asking me 'what's this one about?' It's time to stand up for the church and say what this is. The title explains everything that the record is about."

As in the church of country music, something near and dear to Stuart's heart.

"I think it's like a soldier in the army. You surrender your suit for a sabbatical. I think right now country music needs all the true soldiers it can get."... »»»

Although the dominance of New York, Los Angeles and Nashville as centers of the American music business remains firm after more than a half-century, a few pockets of independent resistance have developed and thrived over the last 30 years or so, sometimes in surprising places.

San Francisco and Austin have long been known as havens for alternative musicians, while both Washington, D.C. and Boston have even longer histories as hotbeds of bluegrass music.

In Colorado, the lure of the Rocky Mountain lifestyle has made towns like Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins magnets not only for up-and-coming bluegrassers, but for aspiring jam bands and singer-songwriters as well.

With the release of their third studio album "Old Hands" on their own Frog Pad label (they also have two previous live releases), the Nederland, Col.-based Yonder Mountain String Band continues to merge respect for tradition with their own "Gen-X" take on bluegrass, this time using it to showcase and salute the singing and songwriting of a man they consider a mentor and, more importantly, a friend, Benny "Burle" Galloway.... »»»

After 17 years and dozens of hits, it was time for a change for Dwight Yoakam. The honky tonk star decided this time was right to go his own way.

And ultimately that meant "Population Me," his 17th album out in late June and as always produced by long-time sidekick Pete Anderson, was no longer going to bear the Warner Brothers name. Instead, Yoakam opted to put out the 10-song album on his own label, Electrodisc, with Nashville label Audium Records distributing the music.

"I just felt that at this point in my life and in career, it was more interesting and freeing kind of proposition," says Yoakam in a cell telephone interview from Los Angeles where he lives.

"Not only on a business level, but also on a creative and emotional level. I don't know that it will remain that way, but right now I'm happy with it. It's not completely alone. As the tour title suggests, (Yoakam toured earlier this year under the "Almost Alone" title and heads out again this summer as " Almost Alone...and then some") I have a partner involved in this, and a man who runs the label was a former VP at Warner."... »»»

The latest "overnight sensation" in country music, at least to those not in the know, is Buddy Jewell.

The Arkansas native has a huge advantage over other newcomers. Jewell won the Nashville Star competition on the USA Network in May seen by millions. And that earned him the chance to immediately sign a contact with Sony Nashville with Clint Black producing his debut disc out July 1.

But for those who thought Jewell hit the jackpot well before his time, consider this - he has plied his wares in Music City for 10 years, coming close to contracts several times before having a successful career as a demo singer.

So Jewell, affable during a telephone interview from Nashville, says he may be an overnight sensation "if you want to consider me a Rip Van Winkle."

But after years of trying, Jewell is not exactly complaining about his good fortune thanks to Nashville Star.

The event was somewhat akin to American Idol, save for the country crowd. A total of about 8,000 people auditioned to be on the show. Jewell auditioned in Nashville last fall at the Country Music Hall of Fame.... »»»

More than five years have passed since Joe Ely's last studio album, the traditionally flavored Tex Mex brew of "Twistin' in the Wind" and three since his vibrant live document, "Live @ Antone's."

For most musicians, that broad gap between releases could stand as the devil's workshop where distraction and lack of productivity reign supreme.

Not in Joe Ely's world.

For Ely, there is no such concept as downtime. In the void left after being dropped by MCA (for the second time in his career) when "Twistin' in the Wind" failed to meet label expectations at the cash register, Ely went on the tour that would produce "Live @ Antone's," recorded "Now Again," the triumphant second coming of The Flatlanders with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, toured incessantly with both the band and on his own, finished work on a novel, and recorded three albums worth of material in his home studio, two of which he would ultimately reject in favor of the amazingly genre-blended "Streets of Sin," the 14th album of his long and storied career.... »»»

Add Blue Highway to the growing number of bluegrass artists to take the plunge and record an all-gospel themed bluegrass album. With "Wondrous Love," Blue Highway's sixth album since forming in 1994, the well-hewn band offers 13 old and new songs attesting to the Christian backgrounds of its five band members.

"We've done gospel material in our shows from the very beginning, which is a long tradition in bluegrass," says Tim Stafford, Blue Highway's versatile singer-guitarist, by phone from his home in Kingsport, Tenn. "We get a lot of attention from our a cappella numbers and won an award several years back from the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) for a song we had on one of our records that was a gospel number."

Consequently, ever-inquisitive bluegrass fans wondered aloud when this band with the growing following was going to record an all-gospel album. Unlike much of today's country musicians who have long since forsaken gospel albums (note the exception of Randy Travis), it's not only a part of, but also an expected part of being a bluegrass musician.... »»»

The late '80s and early '90s was an exciting period for American rockabilly revivalists. Acts like High Noon, Go Cat Go and the Dave and Deke Combo were bristling with ideas and toured incessantly at home and abroad.

Of those revivalists acts - indeed, the only one which still performs regularly today - Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys have come the closest to some measure of national awareness, with a nearly decade-long stint with HighTone Records, TV appearances, occasional performances on the Grand Ole Opry and years of hard touring.

In early June, the band released their latest album, "It's Time!," their first album for the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Yep Roc label following nearly a decade with HighTone.

"This album came together easier than 'Night Tide' did," says Williams in a telephone conversation from Anaheim, Cal., referring to the group's last album.

"I had a difficult time writing the songs for 'Night Tide,'" continues Williams, who, somewhat in contrast to his public... »»»

A sleep at the Wheel's 30-year career provides a direct route along which Western swing travels. Its longtime leader Ray Benson can be rightly thanked for having saved the music of Bob Wills, Spade Cooley and Milton Brown.

But Benson's tastes flow further than Western swing's trail travels.

Benson punctuates that statement with his first solo album, "Beyond Time." Listeners need not listen to a single track before concluding that Wheel's longtime leader has come up with a different sound. Just look at the cover.

There's Benson mid-croon, gripping a 1940s-era microphone as a lone beam of light creates a saloon-like silhouette. A fedora and not a cowboy hat sits crowns his head.

"Take off the cowboy hat and see what happens," Benson says by phone from Austin, Texas. "I'm glad I got that across at least to (someone)."

Message received.

The album's title, "Beyond Time," reflects the album's timeless quality. Listen to it once and it sounds as if from the 1940s. Listen again, and it sounds contemporary.... »»»

There are too many similarities to ignore. Both Alison Krauss and Andrea Zonn started young with fiddles in their hand. Both became respected studio musicians. Now both are solo artists.

Zonn has emerged from the studio and the shadow of Vince Gill's touring band to release her own solo effort, "Love Goes On" for Compass Records in May.

Zonn actually came from classical violin training, a study she started at age 5.

"I started fiddling at age 10 when I was frustrated with the violin repertoire I was technically limited to," says Zonn in a telephone interview from the Nashville area. "It comes from a whole different part of your brain. In classical, you're given every note. The freedom comes from the interpretation and dynamics you bring to the piece."

Her father, Paul Martin Zonn, chaired in Music Theory and Composition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But he also played jazz clarinet and piano, so he understood her desire to have another form of musical expression.

"He had a lot of musical languages he liked to say," says Zonn.... »»»

Billy Yates has been to the promised land a few times and back again. And that's not necessarily so bad in the eyes of the singer, who has carved out a career as a songwriter, but also is nurturing an indie singing career.

Yates, the pen behind George Jones' "Choices" and "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair," could be victim of being labeled as too country.

After all, when you call your album, "Country," seems like you better deliver.

Inside the album jacket, Yates writes, "What you see is what you get, what you get is what you see. No, I ain't tryin' to fool no one. God knows I'm proud to"

The lines are from the only totally self-penned song on the new disc and title track. While country music is never specifically mentioned - the country lifestyle is the focal point - Yates says in a telephone interview from Nashville that country music clearly is part of the equation for him.

"The only reason I did just go for that is that the song came entirely to me in a... »»»

Way back when Carter Stanley died, his brother Ralph could easily have retired to something other than the music business. But Ralph paused, gathered his senses and did the sensible thing.

Gone were the Stanley Brothers, enter Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys. We live, we die. Either way the show must go on.

On Dec. 31, 2002, the elder half of another bluegrass brothers group, Jim & Jesse's Jim McReynolds, died at 75. Given a gradual decline in health while waging battle with cancer, his death came as no great surprise.

But Jesse McReynolds paused, gathered his senses and did the sensible thing. Gone were Jim & Jesse and The Virginia Boys, enter Jesse McReynolds & The Virginia Boys. The show goes on.

Jim & Jesse's final album, the appropriately titled "'Tis Sweet to be Remembered," serves as one last look at new recordings from the native Virginians.

The brothers' ever-present laconic, Southwest Virginia style emerges from its first track and carries through to the end.

But the pair's final recordings also look forward to life without Jim.... »»»

Of the great country bands of the 1960's, none was more successful than Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.

Although the band's lineup shifted from time to time during the '60s (even employing Merle Haggard as the group's bassist during one brief period in early 1962), their classic '64-'67 lineup - Owens, lead guitarist Don Rich, drummer Willie Cantu, steel guitarist Tom Brumley and bassist Doyle Holly - is today revered as one of country music's all-time great bands, thanks to the driving rhythms of the group's singles, the tight vocal harmonies of Owens and Rich and Rich's virtuoso lead guitar work.

"I think what it boils down to was that combination," says Holly - who released his new solo album, "Together Again," in early May - in a telephone interview from his home in Hendersonville, Tenn. "Everybody was in the right place at the right time."

Holly, 66, was born in Oklahoma and spent his young adult years working in the oil fields of Oklahoma, Kansas and California.... »»»

When John Eddie is made aware of the presence of a vinyl copy of his first album in a journalist's record collection, he immediately makes an offer.

"I'll buy it from you," he says with a laugh. "Just don't play it for anybody."

Of course, he's making a thin joke at his own expense. Eddie regained the rights to his first two albums for Columbia - "John Eddie" and "The Hard Cold Truth" - and has repackaged them as a twofer that he's peddling to the faithful at his shows and through his web site at

"Actually, it's okay," he admits. "I'm still proud of the lyrics. It's just that the production values are so '80s, it's hard for me to hear it. We played a show last night, and I did that song 'Buster,' and that still rings true when I play it stripped down. Even with artists I respect, when I hear their records from the '80s, I don't dig the way the production sounds. Even Dylan records from then were using those big cannon drums that didn't match the songs he was singing. It was a time when we found machines and thought they could make good records."... »»»

With nearly a full decade's worth of life's highway showing in her rear-view mirror since the 1994 release of her debut, "Songs From The Levee," southern siren Kate Campbell already has left in her wake a series of richly textured recordings, each of which her devoted fan base considers "monumental" on its own merits.

Now 41, as if to show that she's just on the verge of hitting her stride, her new release of all-original material, "Monuments" is accompanied by a second new disc, "Twang On A Wire" (both on her own Large River label), a deeply personal salute to the women of country music whose music inspired her.

After spending her early years in northern Mississippi, where her father was a minister, her family moved to Nashville in the late 1960's, and she continues to be a Music City resident.

"Momuments" began to take shape when she chanced to see a "CBS Sunday" feature about a local sculptor, William Edmondson, much of whose work is destined to grace gravesites all over Tennessee for decades, even centuries to come.... »»»

When considering the ingredients for the prototypical country song, how about a character who grows up poor, not knowing who his real daddy is, quits school, holds down a blue collar job or two, encounters brushes with the law and the inside of pokey, drinks and does drugs too much, is on his fourth marriage, but somehow manages to overcome life's travails.

Well in the truth is stranger than fiction category, meet Jeff Bates.

The small town Mississippi native has had all of the above and more during his 39 years. Not to mention a strong debut disc about his life and love.

In effect, his life is a country song. "Someone told me the other day that I had country music in my DNA," says Bates in a cell telephone interview while on his Brooks & Dunn Neon Wild West Tour bus going somewhere between Sacramento, Cal. and Portland, Ore. "I've done a lot of living. For a 21 year old, I've done a lot. Plus about 18 more."

Bates, with his smoky, somewhat gravelly voice, maintains a sense of humor about life as he knows it.... »»»

Before Caitlin Cary gets ready to talk about her new album, the sophomore effort "I'm Staying Out," she wants to have a spot of tea. You can even hear the kettle whistling softly in the background through the telephone.

It's just that sort of atmosphere of instant conversation that Cary, the Whiskeytown violinist and co-founder, hopes to spark once again when she takes her touring band on the road.

"I think people who want to come see me tend to want to go to bed before midnight and not stand in a smoke rock club on the concrete floor," she says. "I always try to bring it to these people."

She certainly has something to deliver. Critics seemed surprised when Cary released her solo debut, 2002's "While You Weren't Looking." The disc showed that it wasn't just "It Boy" Ryan Adams hanging out in the loose collective and alt.-country darling band Whiskeytown.

Someone else was there as well, and she had a disarming voice and a way with a musical hook (as anyone who has heard the song "Shallow Heart, Shallow Water" leaping out of his or her radio speakers can tell you).... »»»

"One Step Ahead" well may be justified as the title for Rhonda Vincent's latest dose of bluegrass.

The Missouri native just did a few days of the huge Merlefest bluegrass extravaganza in North Carolina before doing a gig in Alabama, interviews in Nashville and an appearance with Alison Krauss - the other reigning female diva of bluegrass - at the Grand Ole Opry.

And this isn't atypical for the 40-year-old, decades-long veteran of music. Despite her increasing level of success, Vincent says in a telephone interview from Nashville that recording "One Step Ahead" was "much more challenging than any other album...We were on the road (in 2002) for 300 days."

Vincent, a lively, fast-talking personality with lots on her mind, says recording started in April 2002 and continued off and on until April 2003.

"It was done in many pieces like that instead of having weeks and weeks to work on it," says Vincent. "It was running into (the studio), doing it here and there. I pretty much did... »»»

The voice that says "Hello" is gravelly and carries an almost menacing undertone. In its wake flows a slight drawl. Its directness is more farmer than philosopher, its lilt more Dixie than Yankee. Overall, the effect is somewhat intimidating. Would this be the one, the interview in which the musician takes the reporter to task for inane questions, flagrant misreadings of his songs and a woeful lack of historical musical knowledge?

Thankfully, no. But David Olney's wise, blunt responses make you wake up and pay attention, just as his songs make listeners confront those questions we fear to ask ourselves: questions about life and death, about good, evil and whether we're always able to distinguish between the two.

"The Wheel," Olney's 13th album and 1st on Austin's Loudhouse Records, uses classic American musical forms such as ballads, hymns and the blues to explore these timeless themes; the album closes, appropriately, with a round, a form that holds no strict beginning or end, but lulls with its cyclic cadence. Although the songs are thematically connected, Olney didn't wake up one day and conceive of an album of cycles.... »»»

Not only is Jill King's music steeped in traditional country, but her path to Nashville and a national stage is also similar to those artists she followed so closely while growing up in the small town of Arab, Ala.

King just released her debut, "Jillbilly," for Blue Diamond Records, but she took no easy paths to get this opportunity.

"Arab is a small town just about 30 minutes south of Huntsville," says King from her current home in Nashville. "I grew up on a small chicken farm. It was like a lot of small towns. Everybody knew everybody else. It was a safe place to grow up."

It was also a place where she established much of her musical taste and began singing in a very common way.

"I listened to a lot of country and a lot of gospel," says King. "I developed a real appreciation for traditional country music. I did start singing in church. It was a church that my granddaddy helped build."

That experience helped her learn to be comfortable on a stage in front of a group of... »»»

Greed can kill the best of careers. No matter the amount of money that flows, a general lust often builds for more. Well, money abounds for many country music entertainers, and even the best can succumb to greed.

But how many singers have you ever heard admit it?

Shania Twain? UmmŠno. Garth Brooks? Please. Sammy Kershaw? Read on. With his latest and somewhat ironically titled album, "I Want My Money Back," his first on Audium Records, the Kaplan, La. native reclaims much of what he readily gave up in recent years.

"I just wanted it to be Sammy Kershaw. That's all," Kershaw says by phone from his and wife Lorrie Morgan's Nashville-area home. "I hadn't done that for the last few albums. I wanted this album to be a Sammy Kershaw album. I think we were able to do that."

Kershaw's first album with Audium comes after nearly a decade with major label Mercury Records, the label with whom he enjoyed early '90s success and drew comparisons to George Jones with songs like "Yard Sale," "Third Rate Romance" and "Cadillac Style."

Such new tunes as the clever "Stitches" certainly recall the Kershaw of old.... »»»

The Jayhawks' new album, "Rainy Day Music," is perhaps its best effort to date. Ethan Johns produced this sad, yet still jangle-y album. It's a disc filled with songs about girls with problems, about recognizing life's spiritual side and - maybe more than anything else - just about making pretty music to wile away the long hours during those many rainy Minneapolis days.

Now down to a just a compact trio, singer Gary Louris, drummer Tim O'Reagan and bassist Marc Perlman continue to turn their rainy days into beautiful musical rainbows.

Both Louris and Perlman have stuck it out from the very beginning. And while they may not have always thrived, they've nevertheless survived, in a band where change is about the only constant.

"Survivor is a good word," says Perlman. "I guess Gary and I are both survivors. I could always just be stupid, too. I don't really know."

Even with such brave stick-to-it-ness, Perlman ­ as well as the other Jayhawks ­ have still sometimes entertained the... »»»

Perhaps it would have been a bit less coincidental if Mark Insley had planned it this way.

The singer-songwriter now based in Tucson via the L.A. club scene was taken quite by surprise when he heard legendary country singer Johnny Paycheck had died. The fact that Insley included a Paycheck song on his new album was, he admits, merely out of respect for the old outlaw's contributions and was planned long before Paycheck died in February of emphysema at 64.

"I was completely surprised when I heard he died," says Insley, who was on his way to Los Angeles to finish up work on "Supermodel," his latest release on Rustic Records.

There were a couple of interviews to do, a photo shoot, and he planned to tie up a few loose ends before the album's April 22 release.

"Paycheck's the master. He taught George Jones to sing. I picked a Gary Stewart song for my last album, and after that, I wanted something darker. I've been doing Paycheck songs all my life, and this one seemed right."... »»»

Though his birth certificate says Oklahoma, if anyone doubts that longtime Austin stalwart Ray Wylie Hubbard, now 56, considers himself a Texan to the core, the closing track of his new Philo release, "Growl" will settle the issue. The tune is called "Screw You, We're From Texas," and in his characteristically unabashed fashion Hubbard makes it clear that being from Lone Star Land is as much a state of mind, even if "sometimes it's kind of deranged."

The album is well-titled, not only in recognition of the no-holds-barred, slice-of-life songs (all Hubbard originals), but also because, as he carries on a rambling phone conversation from his home in the hill country southwest of Austin, his speech still carries the engaging rasp - and wry sense of humor - that have earned him 30 years worth of loyal fans and a place on the long roll of great singers and songwriters to come out of Texas.

"(Being from Texas) really is an attitude, especially now some people say that Oklahoma is like... »»»

Mid to late 1990s. Small southeastern college town. Hot summer night. Bar. Packed crowd. Haynes Boys are playing. They are the opening act. Not to thank for big audience. Cracker, alt. superstars and main attraction, are.

Overheard as opening act performs: "Whaddya thank?" says young drunk guy No. 59 as he drinks and spills a 32-ounce plastic cup of Natural Light.

"Uh, I don't know. They remind me of John Cougar Mellencamp or something," says hot, drunk and blonde girl No. 32 as she juggles her words, her Marlboro Lights and her bottle of Bud Light. She frowns and heads to the restroom.

Drunk guy No. 59 puts his hands in his pockets and taps his foot. Opening act keeps playing and singing about tow-truck drivers and Franklin County women. Jack and/or Diane, pink houses and the idea that you can fight authority, but authority always win are not mentioned.

Things have changed a lot for Tim Easton, the lead singer of the Columbus, Ohio band, that played that night so long ago.... »»»

Rosanne Cash doesn't take anything for granted these days. She knows how lucky she is to be talking about her new and quite possibly best album, "Rules of Travel." In fact, she knows that she's lucky to be talking at all.

Five long years ago, Cash and husband/producer John Levanthal began the process of making "Rules of Travel." The album's songs had been assembled with Cash writing the lion's share of the material and picking up some help from a few stellar friends (Joe Henry, Jakob Dylan The Odds' Craig Northey, Marc Cohn, Robert Burke Warren and, as always, Levanthal).

Just as the sessions kicked off, Cash found out that she was pregnant. The joy of that discovery was tempered by a darker event: the nearly complete loss of Cash's voice. Recording ground to a halt.

"For a couple of years, I sounded like Tom Waits with laryngitis and that was on a good day," says Cash with a laugh from her New York home. "Some days, I could just barely whisper. Some days, I couldn't talk at all."... »»»

How different an album is "Nectar" for Brooks Williams? Consider the fact that he had something akin to a panic attack during the recording process despite this being his 14th release.

"On all of my previous albums, I've kind of let my idea of myself lead the way. People think of me as a really good acoustic guitar player, and that's cool. I let that be the voice, even in places where it that wasn't really the right choice," he explains in a recent phone interview.

When it came time to make "Nectar," he says of his latest for Signature Sounds, "I said, 'All bets are off. Where do these songs want to go?'"

The answer, as it turns out, was into some pretty interesting places.

Williams says he knew he was ready to experiment in the weeks and months leading up to the "Nectar" recording sessions. On stage, he was playing tunes that came "from this rhythm and blues, rootsy American sounding stuff. It made me sit up and take notice. I wanted to do something different."... »»»

History is littered with improbable and unintentional heroes, figures who have loomed large with the luxury of retrospection, but remained woefully unrecognized in their own present tense. Music history is particularly susceptible to this syndrome, trumpeting a voluminous roll call of names that were barely known in their own eras and endlessly lauded by succeeding generations.

Such was the strange fate of Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar and Mike Heidorn in the late '80s when they made their way out of the Belleville, Ill. music scene and headed west to the more metropolitan environs of St. Louis with their country-in-my-rock/rock-in-my-country outfit Uncle Tupelo, which has their four albums reissued in March.

Before the band acrimoniously and all too quickly subdivided into the better known entities of Wilco and Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo unwittingly gave alternative country its name and its standard to bear.

Guitarist/bassist Tweedy and guitarist Farrar, high school friends, became fixtures on the central Illinois music scene when they formed the Primitives in the mid-'80s with drummer Heidorn and Farrar's brother Wade.... »»»

It would seem that two decades after consistently topping the country charts and almost single-handedly leading the new-traditionalist movement of the early 1980s that paved the way for the likes of Dwight Yoakam, Randy Travis and Patty Loveless, Ricky Skaggs would be content to pick up his mandolin, hop in the tour bus and hit the road every so often to stretch his legs and make a few bucks by singing his hits and picking a little bluegrass.

Not quite. In fact, not by a longshot.

While some country stars don't know when to call it a career, Skaggs continues to perform at some of the highest levels of musical artistry. And while other performers may dabble in management or production once the career is over, Skaggs has thrown himself headlong not only into producing others, but managing and owning his own record company that in just a few short years has positioned itself among the more impressive indie labels in country or bluegrass.

Since its inception in 1997, Skaggs Family Records - which includes the Ceili Music label - has compiled an impressive stable of artists led by the Del McCoury Band and Mountain Heart.... »»»

Marty Raybon, longtime lead singer for Shenandoah during their Grammy-winning heyday in the late '80s and early '90s, vividly recalls the 1986 film "Crossroads" in which Ralph Macchio plays a Julliard prodigy who becomes obsessed with the blues and seeks out a living blues legend, played by Joe Seneca.

At one point, Raybon remembers, Seneca tells his young protégé, "If you're gonna play the blues, you gotta take it from where you got it, and you gotta carry it through. If you're gonna be a blues man, you gotta carry it further."

"That," says Raybon, "is what I want to do with what I'm doing."

For Raybon, "carrying it through" has brought him to the brink of a project he has dreamed of for years - a return to the bluegrass music he grew up with and first performed. Slated for mid-March release on Tim Austin's Virginia-based Doobie Shea label, the album is appropriately titled "Full Circle," and Raybon enthusiastically acknowledges that he feels like he's come home.... »»»

For older country music fans, the mere mention of The Kendalls is enough to summon up vivid memories of some of the finest singing ever to grace country radio.

A rare father-daughter duet, Jeannie and Royce Kendall scored big in the late 1970s and early 1980s with memorable songs, powerful harmonies and a distinctive country sound that made such records as "Heaven's Just A Sin Away," "Pittsburgh Stealers," "I'm Already Blue" and "Sweet Desire" stand out from the radio crowd.

Today, following the untimely death of her father in 1998 after a stroke, Jeannie Kendall is carrying on the tradition alone.

With a new album - begun with her father, but completed as a solo project with a stellar collection of guests adding the harmony vocals that were Royce Kendall's specialty - and a growing list of personal appearances to look forward to, the singer is moving into a new stage of her career.

"Daddy and I were still touring," Kendall recalls of the period leading up to the duo's signing with Rounder Records, which released "Jeannie Kendall" in late February.... »»»

Whether it is in the genes or learned through environmental means, new Capitol recording artist Jennifer Hanson seems to have both the pedigree and the experience to handle what country music fame has to offer.

Hanson released her self-titled disc Feb. 18, actually a couple of months after the single "Beautiful Goodbye" captivated the airwaves.

"It's been a lot of fun and very exciting," says Hanson in a telephone interview from the Renaissance Hotel in Nashville the day after her album was released. "It's been very busy and hectic, but in a very positive way."

It would be difficult to imagine that she hasn't been fully prepared for what she is now experiencing. Her father, Larry Hanson, began playing music on a national stage more than 20 years ago.

Unfortunately, his adventure out on the road as a guitarist for the Righteous Brothers coincided exactly with his divorce from Jennifer's mother Melody. This happened when Jennifer was just 7 years old and the family was living in La Habra, Cal., just outside of Los Angeles.... »»»

Vince Gill once sang "there's no future in the past."

But now at the ripe old age - for a musician anyway - of 45, Gill seems to be tackling not only the past, but also looking ahead to his own future in country with his new album "Next Big Thing."

The Oklahoman mixes it up stylistically between honky tonkers, ballads, a Spanish touch here, a Cajun bent there and lots of his usual powerful guitar work and tenor voice.

But from the get go of the title and lead-off track, Gill seems to be reflecting not only on his career in Music City, a career that has afforded him numerous awards and huge hits, but also the difficulty of staying at the top.

"For a little while you can do no wrong," sings Gill in the title track song he wrote with Al Anderson and John Hobbs, "Well live it up, son, 'cause it don't last long/There's always somebody waitin' in the wings/Thinkin' they're gonna be the next big thing."

While it would be easy to think that Gill is inward looking, Gill takes a different tack.... »»»

Through nine years, six albums, and numerous rhythm section changes, the two constants in Austin's The Derailers have been Tony Villanueva and Brian Hofeldt, the group's guitarists, lead vocalists, and main songwriters.

Since 1994, the band has been one of the shining lights of the Austin music scene, recording and touring prolifically in support of a sound influenced by Bakersfield artists like Buck Owens and Wynn Stewart as well as by the early '60s pop of The Beatles and Roy Orbison.

The Derailers are back again with their latest album, "Genuine," to be released in March on Sony's Lucky Dog subsidiary, and their second for the label.

"(Lucky Dog has been) really supportive," says Villanueva in a telephone interview. "They've been fans of the band since before we actually signed with them. They just want us to be us. We have the best of both worlds because Lucky Dog is somewhat like an indie label, but at the same time with the capabilities and the resources of a major label."

Both now 35, Villanueva and Hofeldt first met when they were about 21 and living in Portland, Ore.... »»»

Not too many years ago, Deana Carter was jumping up and down bouncing about the stage after she was just won single and song of the year for "Strawberry Wine" from the Country Music Association after her smash debut album "Did I Shave My Legs For This?"

Six years later, Deana Carter is more circumspect about the music industry, but seemingly ever determined about her own career.

Carter is releasing her first regular album in five years , "I'm Just a Girl " March 18 on Arista. The disc leans more towards roots and pop. Think Sheryl Crow with country and pop influences.

And Carter, who left Nashville for Los Angeles a few years ago, thinks the new music represents exactly who she is in 2003.

"I'm so in love with this album," Carter says in a telephone interview from a Nashville hotel room. "It feels like my skin. I can say that because it's very similar to the making of the first record where I had a lot of time to work on it. What I have I had - at least three years, four years?"... »»»

The Be Good Tanyas have titled their latest album "Chinatown," but don't expect to hear a collection of songs about Los Angeles' evil underbelly or characters such as the ones Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway played in that classic Roman Polanski film. It's not about that Chinatown. It's named after the group's adopted community, instead.

"We live in an area that's historically a Chinese neighborhood, but now it has all kinds of different people living here," explains Trish Klein, who plays guitar and banjo, and sings in this all-female trio. "It has some of the cheapest rents in Vancouver, Canada, but it's also a very nice community. It's a very historical community. It's very diverse ethnically. There's still a big Chinese community, but there are also a lot of artists. There are a lot of gardens and parks in the neighborhood, and people take their dogs for walks. It's beautiful."

In other words, this doesn't describe the set of a crime drama.... »»»

Blake Shelton relocated from Ada, Okla. to Nashville at the tender age of 17. This bold career move had more to do with blind faith, though, than with any kind of youthful confidence. "I think it was a combination of having confidence, but mostly (it) was just (about) being naive," remembers Shelton, who is releasing his second album, "The Dreamer," in February.

"At 17, you don't really know that much about the world, and I had no idea what I was getting into when I moved to Nashville. I just thought it'd be easy - that you go there, you meet the right person, get a record deal and be rich and famous in no time," Shelton recalls.

Shelton was originally signed to Giant Records, but that label closed down the very week his first single, "Austin," shipped to radio. The single's early airplay and chart activity, however, prompted Warner Brothers to sign Shelton quickly.

I was in complete shock over the early and quick success of "Austin," Shelton comments. "But mostly I was shocked over the power of a single song."... »»»

For Ellen and Irene Kossoy, the phrase "identical twins" is no exaggeration. They wear their hair the same, wear identical glasses, have the same big, Kennedy-esque smiles, and their speaking voices are hard to distinguish. They even live on opposite sides of a twin house in the Boston suburb of Somerville, Mass.

And even while sitting across a table from them at a Harvard Square coffee shop, it's difficult to keep track of which one is which.

Until "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" came out two years ago with their version of "I'll Fly Away," most music fans didn't keep track of either one.

It's been a long time between albums for the Kossoy Sisters; nearly a half-century, in fact, since the 1956 release of "Bowling Green," their only other release to date (although Irene also recorded an album with ex-husband Tony Saletan in the late '60s).

Recorded when the sisters were only 17, "Bowling Green" has rarely, if ever been out of print since its original release on Tradition Records, and it's easy to understand why.... »»»

Kathleen Edwards is from rural Canada, and while not a lot of the seminal traditional country artists have come from north of the United States border, she is quick to dispel any notions that her countrymen don't have deep roots in the genre.

Edwards, releasing her U.S. debut, "Failer," Jan. 14 on Rounder, grew up listening to country music. "My dad had records of Hank Snow, Buck Owens and Hank Williams," says Edwards, calling from a payphone in Canada. "Canadians enjoy country music because this country has so much rural area. They identify with the music."Edwards, 24, lives in a rural area near Quebec.

But there is a more subconscious than conscious decision for her music to be country. "It's just how I hear the songs in my head," she says. "I don't consciously think about what type of music it is. But I'm a huge fans of roots and Americana music." Edwards, who sounds vocally a lot like Lucinda Williams, lists Whiskeytown's "Stranger Almanac" as one of her favorite albums.... »»»

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Deke Dickerson explains why his latest disc is self-released on the curiously named Major Label Records imprint.

"I've done all these other things so I could tell my grandchildren that I've had a 'Number One Hit Record' (an allusion to his facetiously titled 1998 HighTone album) Ü I might as well tell 'em I had a Major Label contract."

Speaking from his home in Burbank, Cal., Dickerson also offers a diplomatic explanation of why "3-Dimensions!" isn't on HighTone, where he released three highly regarded albums.

"Well, my deal with HighTone is up. I'm a big fan of the label. I think they put out great stuff. But I had a three-record deal with them, my contract was up, and I wanted to put something out on my own before signing with another label for a two- or three-album deal."

The fact is, in recent times, HighTone has suffered the same financial woes as the rest of the recording industry. In 2002, they severed ties with their outside publicity firm, cut label staff and are concentrating on only a few releases for 2003.... »»»

Two years ago, Terri Clark lived up to the title of her disc "Fearless," offering more laid back and softer music, different from the turbo country mantle she's occupied for more than seven years on hits like "You're Easy on the Eyes," "Better Things to Do," "When Boy Meets Girl" and "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me."

While "Fearless" received much praise, the music was not aimed squarely for commercial radio, and the album did not do boffo numbers at record stores.

And in the music business, that could lead to a crossroads in one's career. Especially in these difficult economic times for all record companies, who want the hits and want them right now.

So, it's not surprising that the Canadian is keyed up for her brand new disc, "Pain to Kill," the first country release of 2003.

"The last album, I didn't have any expectations either way," says Clark in a telephone interview from her mother's home in Edmonton, Canada. "I thought it could have sold well or maybe it wouldn't, but I felt... »»»

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