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Articles and Interviews – 1998


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Ever since Junior Sisk got over the fact that the large object covered up in the back of his dad's pickup truck wasn't a motorcycle, he's been hooked on bluegrass.

The thing in the truck was an upright bass, a gift for his 14th birthday.

"Going all the way back, my cousin, Larry Massey, along with my dad are responsible for teaching me to love this music like I do," says Sisk.

Now a superb bluegrass guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, Sisk leads Rambler's Choice, which released "Sounds of the Mountains," their Rounder debut, in October.

The music moves between uptempo driving bluegrass and country-inspired songs.

The band - then consisting of Sisk, Timmy Massey, Alan Perdue, Elmer Burchett and Jimmy VanCleve - arose out of the ashes of Wyatt Rice & Santa Cruz with the Santa Cruz part largely becoming Rambler's Choice.

Growing up around bluegrass because of his father's local jamming and the ever-present sound of the Stanley Brothers on the record player at home, Sisk was destined to have the music in his soul.... »»»

Nola Rose Sheppard has been a mainstay of the Boston country music scene for five years as the leader of Nola Rose & The Thorns. She went to Nashville for six months earlier this year to check out the musical scenery.

Where else in the world are there 35 clubs featuring live, predominantly country, music? You know it. Music City USA, Nashville Tenn.

If I took away nothing else from my time in Nashville, it was experiencing first hand the amount of talent living and working there.

Lucinda Williams, Paul Burch, Jim Lauderdale, Rosie Flores, Buddy and Julie Miller, Guy Clark, Vern Gosdin, Kim Richey, Lee Roy Parnell, Ricky Skaggs, Jimmy Martin, Tom T. Hall, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mandy Barnett, Trisha Yearwood, Jo Dee Messina, Sara EvansŠ.I saw every one of these people perform (okay, I was on a bit of a mission) within the first two months of being in Nashville, and I'm talking about seeing them in clubs for little money, not a big venue and having a chance to meet and speak with some of them.... »»»

"The young guy behind the counter had a shaved head, a rivet through his bottom lip, and baggy surfer shorts on. He flipped through the cards I'd chosen, fingers flittering over the till, then stopped at an old sepia photograph of a cowboy in boots and hat, flying off a bucking bronc. Surprise and disgust creased across his face.

That old nostalgic crap! he said.

Pardon? All this horse and Stetson stuff. It's garbage! Nobody dresses like that in Texas anymore.

You're joking, I said. Everybody does. Well, not everybody: not you. But out in the country you can't get moved for Stetsons! No, he said, Not any more. It's just in the movies, or at the line dance clubs where all the fat-assed secretaries go. Nobody seriously wears high boots and ten gallon hats any more."

- Duncan McLean from "Lone Star Swing" (1997)

It's a heartbreaking moment for McLean and his readers as he realizes that western swing is dying in Texas; the old dance halls shuttered and decrepit (if... »»»

For nearly a decade, a close-knit group of musical denizens of the Minneapolis scene have periodically forsaken their primary band affiliations in order to play together as a distinct unit known as Golden Smog.

The line-up of the country rock band has altered slightly, but the core remains essentially unchanged.

Everything about Golden Smog is unlikely. The name was appropriated from a character on an old episode of the Flintstones. The band has been a viable entity since 1987, but has produced only three recordings to date, including last October's "Weird Tales."

And although the bands that contribute members to Golden Smog are among this generation's most influential with regards to rock, pop, alt.-country and folk, the individuals that claim Golden Smog as their own and bring all of those qualities to Smog material and performance, barely register a blip on most fans' media radar.

Perhaps the band's single most visible member is Jeff Tweedy, whose Golden Smog membership has... »»»

Deryl Dodd should have been on top of the world a few years ago. After all, his debut album was being released. The future was bright.

One problem, though, was no single really broke to infiltrate the airwaves.

But despite this day and age where record labels rapidly show their latest phenom the door when the cash registers don't ring, Dodd was given the green light for a follow-up.

So far so good.

Listeners, however, will notice a lyrical difference between the two, and that's indicative of how Dodd's world fell apart in some respects around the time of the debut.

Most of the 10 songs on the new release deal with heartache and break-up, something which the Texan knows all too well. His marriage, which lasted 3 1/2 years, was falling apart just as his debut was released. The pain carried through to the sophomore effort.

And Dodd, 34, went through a tremendous amount of introspection during his ordeal. "I was very confused to say the least," Dodd says.... »»»

Traffic. Young urchins asking for another dime. The roar of the bar crowd. These are the sounds of gritty Alphabet City. So are the plaintive tones of Hank Williams, the scratch of the fiddle and the cry of something authentically country.

Step into 9C, a bar named for the New York City corner it inhabits, and make yourself at home. This 80-seater just might be the most authentic honky tonk north of Nashville. And you won't hear too much Merle Haggard here. It's frowned upon. From 9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., Ernest Tubb, the boom-chicka-boom of early Johnny Cash and Hank Williams rule the evening.

"It's much more of the hard-core honky tonk and historic country music," muses Monica "Li'l Mo" Passin, who leads Li'l Mo and the Monicats, and is a long-time resident of New York's roots-music scene. Would a request for Eddie Rabbit be tolerated? "Oh, absolutely not," Passin says. "The roots go a lot deeper than that."

The Alphabet City Opry, as it is known, was formed by Greg Garing, a Nashville veteran of early-30's vintage. He is, judging by his talk, an obvious musical maverick.... »»»

The first time around, The Tractors sent intermittent postcards to their record company, announcing they were on the right track to finishing their debut.

The Tractors were not exactly speed demons when it came to the recording process. Then again, maybe there's something to be said for that, given their ultra-catchy song that stayed on the airwaves and videos stations for a long long time, "Baby Likes to Rock It," sales of a few million and award nominations.

Slow forward to 1998. Arista honchos weren't holding their breaths for a second regular album being done soon.

No postcards this time from the Tulsa-based Tractors.

"Just getting done is a reason for celebrating," says lead singer and lead Tractor Steve Ripley, who takes the bull by the horns in raising the question himself about the gap in between the debut and "Farmers in a Changing World," out Nov. 3.

"That's the first goal - just getting it done whereas most people's goal may be ultimate perfection. So, we pat ourselves on getting it done."... »»»

After nearly three decades as one of country music's preeminent "outlaw" songwriters, Billy Joe Shaver released his most intimate album to date, "Victory."

Shaver's New West Records debut is a collection of acoustic gospel songs showcasing his brilliant lyrics and son Eddy's musicianship.

"Victory" is the album Shaver felt compelled by his Christian faith to record. Gospel music has always been important to Shaver.

"I've always had that (spirituality) in my heart and in my songs."

Shaver's faith has remained strong through many turbulent times in his life. Shaver's father left before he was born, prompting his mother to move to Waco, Texas to earn a better living. Shaver and his sister remained in hometown Corsicana, Texas with their grandmother.

Shaver describes Corsicana as "a gin town where they bring all the cotton in and the railroad tracks run around it."

It was as a child in the cotton fields that Shaver was first exposed to music, listening to his black co-workers sing as they worked.... »»»

Ruthie Logsdon was a rock fan in her youth.

It's hardly the shocking expose that it might have been 30 years ago for the lead singer of Washington's Ruthie and the Wranglers. After all, times have changed. Garth Brooks has expressed his admiration for the likes of Queen and Kiss on more than one occasion, as have many of his contemporaries, who grew up on the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Outlaws.

In the case of Logsdon, though, she was a big fan of punk rock bands like Minor Threat, which Washington D.C. was a hotbed for in the '80's.

"My dad was a big country fan. He watched all the award shows. He watched 'Hee-Haw.' Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. All of my country influences pretty much come from going to bluegrass shows or watching the country stars on television."

"The thing was, I thought that was pretty square. I mean, my parents were watching it. I was getting it all through osmosis."

"I was influenced by a lot of the punk rock stuff that was going on in the early... »»»

A visit to Nashville's hallowed Lower Broad area is an enlightening experience for any country music fan, whether you love the contemporary sound, still listen to purist classics on AM radio or fit snugly somewhere in between.

Because this small stretch of dim, yet thunderous honky tonks, where performer after performer flock to play for tips and sing their hearts out is just as much of a piece of the genre as any rural tradition or cowboy song.

This is (and has been) the proving ground for many of country music's best. Places like the world famous Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, Robert's Western World or the Ernest Tubb Record Store have showcased some of country's greatest talent.

Yet they have done so in a fashion that is intimate and wholly real: for the most part a microphone, a song and a tip jar. No lights, makeup or studio pros help out these countless artists as they strive to fulfill their dreams of country music stardom.

On the outside, a city block full of loud bars, pawn... »»»

Danni Leigh isn't anxious about being "stuck" with the label, the "female Dwight Yoakam."

Just the opposite.

"I love it," says the 28-year-old Virginian, who just released her debut "29 Nights," on the phone from Kansas City. "I think that's one of the best compliments anybody can pay to me to be honest. When I think myself of comparisons, I don't come as musically inclined as Dwight is...I'm definitely on the right path. That's where I want to be. I've always been a fan of his. I respect what he does."

"Dwight was kind of this way with Buck," the honky tonker says of the role model idea. "It's an awful high standard you're putting me against...I hope they keep on saying it. That means I keep making the right move upwards to that status. It puts some pressure on you. I wouldn't want my next record to come and people say, 'you blew it.'"

Leigh, who has a Patsy Cline feel as well vocally, comes across as being confident of her abilities and isn't afraid to stick to her guns.... »»»

Every musical generation spawns an original, an artist so completely out of step with his peers that no previous yardstick is applicable. Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard have all been shining examples of American musical innovators, some so far ahead of the curve that their impact on their contemporaries could only be viewed in retrospect, well after the reality of their lasting influence.

It's no surprise that singer/songwriter Tom Leach is being viewed as this generation's new country original. Nor is it a stretch to hold him up in comparison to the above named icons to emphasize that originality.

The only real surprise is that Leach is making music in the first place.

Leach's northern family moved to an Atlanta suburb during his formative years, resulting in a normal upbringing devoid of traditional Southern culture.

After high school, Leach studied painting at the University of Georgia in Athens in the early '80's, a time and a region that was particularly fertile for music. Still, he was not seduced by the atmosphere that inspired the likes of R.E.M., Mitch Easter and Pylon.... »»»

Texans have long revered Robert Earl Keen as one of the deities of Texas roots music, but he has never garnered the same rabid following outside of the Lone Star State.

That began to change last year, however, when his "Picnic" spent six weeks atop the Gavin Americana chart. Now Keen is looking to continue that success with "Walking Distance," his second Arista Austin album after a long stretch on Sugar Hill.

The new album and its predecessor must come as a surprise to Keen's long-time fans. A graduate of Texas A & M University, he has traditionally been a favorite of the college fraternity crowd who, along with Keen himself, lived the lyric of one of his best-known songs, "The road goes on forever, but the party never ends."

But Keen, 42, now has a young daughter, and as he matures as a person and songwriter, he's moving away from the sing-along party songs that made him famous and toward a more folky story-telling style.

The new album, co-produced by Keen and Gurf Morlix (known for his work with Lucinda Williams), has a much more acoustic feel than Keen's earlier work, and the songwriting is often contemplative.... »»»

With "country music" and "country radio" seemingly representing two very different things these days, it creates a real problem for artists wanting to simultaneously serve both. Artists who've proven themselves at radio get some degree of freedom, but for those just starting out, hard decisions must be made.

Sara Evans is one artist facing those problems right now, and she's very aware of her situation.

"My first record ("Three Chords And The Truth") received critical acclaim, but hit a wall at radio. We went out to Los Angeles to cut it. It had that West Coast, Dwight Yoakam sound. (It was produced by Yoakam producer Pete Anderson.) We didn't use any Nashville musicians."

For her second RCA album, "No Place That Far," it was back to Nashville for the 27-year-old Missouri native.

"This time, all my friends were there. The best things were that I got to go home every night, and we got to use people like Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and George Jones."... »»»

Things appear to be looking up for the nearly ever changing Two Dollar Pistols. Up as in "Step Right Up," the bandıs new disc, but also in terms of making a name for themselves outside their home of Chapel Hill, N.C.

John Howie, nearly the only consistent figure in the hard core country/honky tonk bandıs career, has put together personnel more to his liking for the group that recently released the live disc for the indy Yep Roc label.

"My goal was to have country musicians in this band instead of rock musicians posing as country players,ıı said Howie. "Now I feel that Iıve gotten that."Part of the way heıs reached that plateau is through the addition of Steve Howell on guitar. Howell comes from The Backsliders and brings multiple talents to the three-year-old group.

"The thing thatıs great about Steve is his genuine love for the music," said Howie. "I also think that heıs a great songwriter." That helps to balance the efforts of Howie, who admits a strong affection for ballads. Yet live, as on "Step Right Up," only a couple of slow numbers are included in each show.... »»»

Son Volt was never a band that cared much for the star-making machinery and all its trappings. The midwestern alt.-country-roots-rock band simply likes to plug in and play.

And like some of the old-school bands of the '60's and '70's (Crazy Horse, The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers), they harken back to, the band is prolific with three strong studio albums released in less than four years. Son Volt's newest, Wide Swing Tremolo, continues where their last one, "Straightaways," left off.

Fresh off a high school auditorium gig in Boulder, Col., singer-songwriter and leader of the band, Jay Farrar, spoke about his new album and the beauty of alternating between the acoustic and electric guitars. Though the new album is predominantly an electric affair, with a large handful of hard-rocking nuggets, the band recently found themselves doing a largely acoustic-oriented three-week tour."The tour's not completely in sync with the new release," cites Farrar from a hotel room in Salina, Kansas, "but since we're touring before it comes out, it somehow makes more sense. More or less, we're just trying to do something a little different."... »»»

Eric Royer gives a laugh over the phone. "I'd like to play in a bluegrass band," he says. "I love good bluegrass harmonies. On the other hand, I kind of like having the complete control over repertoire and arrangements that I do now."

Royer has that control thanks to the Guitar Machine - a mechanical device allowing him to create a guitar and bass rhythm section with his feet, freeing his hands to play the banjo or lap steel guitar.

Royer, a Massachusetts native, invented the Guitar Machine while living in Tucson in the early 1990's. Now that he's back in the Boston area, he's taken the Guitar Machine out onto the streets and into the clubs of Cambridge, bringing, as the Boston Bluegrass Union's Gerry Katz says, "bluegrass to the masses."

For those skeptical about the viability of a one-man bluegrass band, a listen to Royer's new CD, "Royer's Guitar Machine Band," should be enough to dispel any doubts.

Not that Royer sticks to the bluegrass straight and narrow - the CD's... »»»

In the '60's and into the '70's, country music had four great female stars - Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Connie Smith. Everyone has heard of the first three.

Connie Smith's name is not as recognizable to the young audience, even though a lot of people - Dolly among them - believe that she was the best singer of the group.

Smith's first new album in many years has just been released on Warner, and she hasn't lost one bit of her vocal skills.

Her relative obscurity is partly due to neglect on the part of her record labels (RCA and Columbia) who have made her hits unavailable for 20-odd years. RCA finally got around to putting out a 20-track "Essential" CD last year. A wonderful CD, it still does not even cover all of her hits for that label.

But much of Smith's low profile was her own doing.

"I think of myself as just a singer,"she says now. "I never had any publicity. I had very little management. That makes a lot of difference. My focus was on the family. I sang to make a living. I didn't want to become a star."... »»»

In another era Heather Myles would have already established herself as a major force in country music.

With "Highways and Honky Tonks," her first release under a joint venture between Rounder and Mercury, Myles produced an album that has both traditional and contemporary appeal.

Myles grew up in Riverside, Cal. on a horse ranch. Though a fan of Judy Garland, Doris Day and big band music, Myles was exposed to country music early on by her parents.

"I grew up on a lot of Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams and Merle Haggard," she recalls.

"I knew - innately I knew - that one day I was going to be a singer. I mean there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be a musician."

Unlike many musicians who begin playing in high school bands, Myles didn't even own her first guitar until she was 21. Though stage fright in her youth delayed her debut as a performer, music was Myles' driving passion.

"As a child growing up I was very musically minded - kind of writing songs in my head and... »»»

Many new country artists release a single or two, then maybe an album, and then they're forgotten within a year. Not Allison Moorer - her high-profile introduction made sure she wouldn't be overlooked.

Her "A Soft Place to Fall" was chosen as the musical centerpiece for Robert Redford's critically acclaimed movie "The Horse Whisperer," and Moorer even got to perform the song in the movie as Redford slow-danced with co-star Kristin Scott Thomas.

"It was pretty incredible," the 26-year-old Moorer says of the experience. "I had never been on the set of a major movie before...And getting to work with Robert Redford was really, really cool."

If country fans had gotten to hear that song - and many didn't because it stiffed at country radio - they would have discovered a very traditional country singer with a deep, rich voice, like a more breathy, not quite as twangy Bobbie Cryner.

As it turns out, though, there's much more to Moorer's music than that one incredible ballad, as her debut album, "Alabama Song," attests.... »»»

If one was to create a short list of respected young rockabilly guitarists, at or near the top would be 30-year-old Deke Dickerson.

Dickerson, releasing his first solo album, "Number One Hit Record!," on Hightone in October, is best known for two highly regarded albums recorded in 1994 and 1996 with the now-defunct Dave and Deke Combo.

The group had the then-novel approach of playing rockabilly with a distinct mix of rural twang and '50's west coast instrumental flash. Co-led by Dave Stuckey (the group's principal songwriter) and Dickerson (whose lightning-fast Joe Maphis/Jimmy Bryant-influenced picking on his double-neck Mosrite left musicians in awe), the group was regarded as one of the top U.S.-based rockabilly groups when their summer '96 breakup took fans by surprise. All the more so since the group wasn't regarded as having come close to peaking.

"It was one of those things where Dave and I both had very specific ideas about what we wanted to do," says Dickerson, an LA... »»»

Charlie Robison's music isn't much different sonically from that of a typical New Country artist. His blend of country and rock would be right at home on most FM country stations.

Where Robison differentiates himself is in his tell-it-like-it-is style of songwriting. In sharp contrast to country radio, where heartwarming songs like "26 Cents," "Cover You in Kisses" and "I'll Go on Loving You" dominate the charts, Robison's major label album, ironically titled "Life of the Party," features songs about heartbreak, murder and life in the poorhouse.

In one of Robison's personal favorites, "Loving County," the singer's girlfriend "runs with an oil company bum 'cause a diamond was not on her hand."

The singer's solution? Kill the sheriff's wife and steal her ring. Robison compares it to a Shakespearean tragedy. "Every one of Shakespeare's plays were about completely depressing awful things, yet he's the greatest playwright ever," says the Texan.

Talking to Robison on the day of the album release, one gets a sense of a man with a unique viewpoint and sense of humor who's not going to let anyone dictate the music he plays.... »»»

Willie Nelson is as American as the flag. A blue collar American, that is. Long known for his love of the road, this year alone he will perform nearly 200 concerts. From California to Maine, Florida to Washington, Nelson will log thousands of miles on his home on wheels, his bus, Honeysuckle Rose II. Nelson completed a successful tour of Europe in May. Truly, he's seen nearly every corner of the world.

Like his song says, Willie Nelson really "can't wait to get on the road again."

Kinda makes you wonder, though, just how he can record so darned much. In September, Island Records, Nelson's primary label, released "Teatro."

Earlier this year, Luck Records became the first company to market a country album solely over the Internet. It was Nelson's album with The Offenders, "Me And The Drummer."

In June, Rick Rubin's American Recordings/Sony released Nelson and Johnny Cash's "VH-1 Storytellers," gleaned from the hit cable TV show.

Busy indeed, and yet though now 65, Nelson shrugs off any notions that he is somehow defying his age, saying, "I like being busy."... »»»

This isn't your grandfather's Robbie Fulks.

Just three years ago, the former Bloodshot Records artist may have been pegged for a swank country crooner who could play some pretty tasty guitar. With albums like "Country Love Songs" and "South Mouth," Fulks displayed a real talent for walking a fine line between rootsy rock and smart-ass cornpone.

The result? Hooky, country-esque songs that lay just this side of uncategorizeable.

With his new, major label debut on Geffen, "Let's Kill Saturday Night," Fulks is reaching a little further. The first two songs bring to mind not the Opry, but rather Graham Parker or a mid-career Warren Zevon. The pace is furious, the tone aggressive, and the sound gets under your skin.

"It starts hard, then deepens and goes off on different tangents," Fulks says of his new effort in a recent interview. "Which is acceptable to me."

Listeners must make a big jump from the smashing "Caroline" to "Pretty Little Poison," a wrenchingly sweet duet with Lucinda Williams, but it's worth the trip.... »»»

Junior Brown may not be all over the airwaves, but he sure seems to be ubiquitous on the boob tube.

Gap ads. Lipton Tea ads.

And soon a character on "The X-Files." That despite never being a regular of the popular show.

But don't think though the man with the hat and big droopy eyes is eschewing his musical career for the glitz and glamor of Tinseltown.

Not with a brand new disc "Long Walk Back" just out.

The 11 songs offer much variety ranging from the usual honky tonk/Ernest Tubb stylings for which Brown probably is best known ("Long Walk Back to San Antone") to an Elvis cover from his movie days ("Rock-A-Hula Baby") to a Fifties style rave-up, Connie Francis' ("(I'm Just) Looking For Love") to straight-ahead steely guitar-based blues ("Stupid Blues") to an instrumental ("Peelin' Taters").

Of course, the centerpiece is Brown's guitar playing with his unique guit-steel, a guitar contraption Brown says came to him in his dreams years ago. The instrument combines a regular six-string guitar on one fret with a steel on another.... »»»

Bill Anderson should be a legend. As a recording artist, he has had 37 Top Ten country singles and ranked Number 24 of all-time through 1993 (according to Record Research Inc.).

Anderson is also one of country's greatest songwriters, having written dozens of hits for other artists as well as most of his own. Either career alone would make him an all-time great.

Having both at the same time was both incredible and unique. Yet his tremendous accomplishments are sadly obscure to much of today's audience.

"Fine Wine" (Reprise) represents Anderson's return to recording after a long absence. Without concessions to modern tastes, it's just classic "Whispering Bill." With everything around us getting bigger, faster and louder, the quiet and straightforward simplicity of Anderson's album is a welcome respite.

"Jim Ed Norman (Reprise's Nashville head) came up with the idea and approached Steve Wariner, who was there at the time recording with Anita Cochran," Anderson says. "Jim Ed was... »»»

One of the greatest albums of country's renaissance in the early Nineties has to be Suzy Bogguss' "Aces." With hits like the Nanci Griffith acoustic folk number "Outbound Plane," the plaintive Cheryl Wheeler title song, Ian Tyson's rodeo classic "Someday Soon" and the Doug Crider/Matt Rollings composition about going away to college, "Letting Go," Bogguss appeared to be country's next superstar.

In 1992 the Country Music Association rewarded Bogguss with its Horizon Award, echoing the praise that critics and fans had heaped upon her for her beautiful soprano voice and outstanding song selection.

But commercially, Bogguss has never again been able to reach that same level of success, not so much because her music has changed, but because the country scene has changed around her.

As the Nineties progressed, radio became less open to the folkier side of country, and Bogguss' hits, like "Drive South" and "Hey Cinderella," became fewer and farther between.... »»»

Southern Rail is finally coming home. With recent changes to the bluegrass band's lineup, and a brand new recording, band member Jim Muller is realizing a long-time dream - to play and sing with his brother.

Founding members Muller and Sharon Horovitch, who began Boston's Southern Rail while completing graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently were joined by Jim's brother and banjoist Paul Muller and mandolin/bass vocalist Bob Sachs.

The band, now pushing on past the 20-year mark shows no signs of slowing down, having just released "Wasting My Time," their second on Pinecastle.

Jim Muller, who works for a company manufacturing music gear, thinks the new disc "has broader appeal, better songs, and a more traditional sound due to the mandolin." The inclusion of Sachs has boosted the instrument into the forefront of their sound.

The song selection took more than a year. Paul Muller introduced them to "Freight Train #9," made popular by Jim Eanes. With a new arrangement, Paul Muller said "Let's try this one, but push up the speed and make it entertaining."... »»»

There are many contemporary artists whose sound can be described as retro. But few are more retro than Gillian Welch, whose sound harkens back to the original Carter Family. More than just the Carters' sound, Welch completely captures the mood of their time and place. Those who loved her highly praised debut "Revival" will get more of the same when Welch finally releases her follow-up, "Hell Among The Yearlings," July 28.

"The title comes from an old fiddle tune. I bumped into the title looking through a book of fiddle music," Welch says. "I felt it was appropriate for the record we were making."

Welch, 30, grew up in Los Angeles, where her parents wrote musical segments for The Carol Burnett Show. Some people question how a well-off L.A. girl can adopt an Appalachia persona. But as Welch explains it, it all makes perfect sense.

"I went to a progressive, almost hippie grade school in Los Angeles. I had a forward-thinking, folk-oriented music teacher who taught us Woody Guthrie and Carter Family songs in second grade. Those were the first songs I learned to play on guitar. I started playing when I was eight."... »»»

Though Bruce Robison's initial exposure with his self-released album "Wrapped" did not make a big impact in terms of sales or radio airplay when released in 1996, it did catch the eye of an executive at Sony.

Now with wider distribution and a video on the way, Robison may get some of the attention he deserves.

Robison's music reflects his Bandera, Texas upbringing during the 70's. "It was more like the 50's there before cable television," Robison recalls. "Time was kind of standing still in that little place. I guess you could call it insulated."

Robison, 32, grew up listening largely to Texas music, and he made the move to Austin in 1989. He formed a band and gradually began mixing his own songs into his set list.

Robison says that "songwriting chose me more than I chose it," but the good response to his songs encouraged him to push on.

Robison credits the Austin club scene with furthering his development as a performer. "There's a bunch of clubs where you can actually go and make a few bucks and play original live music all night," says Robison.... »»»

A visit to Marjie Alonso's beautiful Somerville, Mass. home on a Sunday afternoon in late August finds the Paved Country vocalist strapping her two children into the back seat of her sister's car for an afternoon drive.

"I remember thinking my life was stressful," says Alonso after the kids have left and she's sat down on her front porch for an interview. "Then I got married and had kids. I didn't even have a clue what stress was!"

Indeed, in opposition to the stereotype of the hard-living, harder-drinking country singer, domesticity is at the heart of much of the work of Alonso and her partner in Paved Country, co-singer/songwriter Sarah Mendelsohn.

Both are married with children and Mendelsohn was pregnant during the recording of the band's self-titled debut.

The album is a glossy, contemporary pop-country/Americana album centered around Alonso's and Mendelsohn's songwriting and vocal harmonies. Its 14 songs might not fit into many people's notion of Dale Watson/Buck Owens hard country, but it would fit right in with many post modern adult contemporary playlists.... »»»

BR5-49's past is no secret: playing free gigs at Robert's on Lower Broadway in Music City with tips their pay, wearing thrift shop clothing on stage and belting out what some might consider a retro sound in rejuvenating songs from country's bygone era of Hank, Johnny Horton, Moon Mullican and a host of others.

But don't tell that to Gary Bennett, one of the quintet's singers and songwriters.

"I hate the word retro," says Bennett just a few weeks before the release of "Big Backyard Beat Show," the band's third disc for Arista. "God, I hate that word. It's almost a novelty thing. I moved to Nashville to be a songwriter."

While a definite playfulness exists both live and on the silver platter, this is a band that takes itself seriously.

For starters, nine of the 15 songs on the new release are penned by the band, compared with six on 1996's self-titled debut.Fellow lead singer Chuck Mead and Bennett do almost all of the writing.

While many artists are content to say they want the best songs, Bennett says the inclusion of more band originals was no accident.... »»»

Gary Allan enjoyed success the first time around with "Her Man" off his "Used Heart for Sale" debut CD, but he sure wasn't resting on his laurels when his follow-up disc surfaced in May.

The West Coast honky tonker thought his career was on the line when "It Would Be You" was released as the first single.

That's because nothing clicked on "Used Heart For Sale" except the one single. "I tried to put out something that was too country for the market," Allan says of failure of follow-up singles.

"I was really concerned when we released ('It Would Be You')," he says of the song co-written by the late Kent Robbins "I knew if that didn't work, we were really in trouble. But it did work."

"I think I tried not to think about that," Allan says about possible failure. "Nobody wants to be the one-hit wonder guy...I think I felt more crunched for time making this record because I had just come off the road for three weeks."

The song hit the Top 10.

"We knew we had to have a hit with the first," Allan says. "I'm real confident about this whole record."... »»»

Dwight Yoakam escaped from under the covers and now finds himself going A Long Way Home.

The trip actually isn't that far for the honky tonker and occasional actor. While his last disc of covers found him all over the map to varying degrees of success (though not commercial), his brand new highly personal and introspective disc is a return to vintage Yoakam with honky tonk, Elvis rave-ups, a Ray Price-like shuffle and tender ballads all adorned by his sturdy tenor.

Yoakam, 41, makes it quite clear that he is the one calling the shots when it comes to the direction of each musical move.

"I try to literally divorce myself from any second guessing, the concerns of any given radio format or attempting to do anything as a way of appeasing anybody," says Yoakam, Kentucky born, LA-based. "The only thing that I'm doing is trying to seek out musical expression that inspires me to want to continue to perform."

"I've never been asked to compromise really from the folks at Warner (his... »»»

Dr. Ralph Stanley is certainly a legendary singer, songwriter and bluegrass musician. At 71, he is one of the genre's most enduring figures. A true American icon, if ever there was one, the influence he has had in over half a century of making music is without question.

And now, that influence is well-documented, in a double-CD set "Clinch Mountain Country," just out from Virginia-based Rebel Records.

It's Stanley's 30th project for the venerable label. What distinguishes this project, however, is the esteemed assemblage of guest musicians whose respect and love for "the Stanley tradition" drew them instantly to the studio to work alongside the man whose voice and heart are so deeply imbued with the rich heritage of the Appalachian mountains.

Along with the obviously high profile (not to mention high "cool" factor) appearance of Bob Dylan, a host of other country, bluegrass and gospel acts join in on nearly 30 songs from the Stanley repertoire. Porter Wagoner, Dwight Yoakam, Hal Ketchum, Patty Loveless and Vince Gill, George Jones, Vern Gosdin, Jim Lauderdale, Joe Diffie, Marty Stuart...you get the picture.... »»»

The Racketeers are after you - no, not those kind of racketeers, but rather, as they call themselves, "Bostonıs Infamous Rockabilly Racket."

With a well-regarded CD under their belts and a European tour slated this fall, The Racketeers are ready to break out to new audiences.

"Weıve been together about two years," says the bandıs singer and standup drummer Dana Stewart, "but this past year, weıve really been getting it."

Speaking from the studio where the band was remastering their full-length album originally released last year, Stewart conveys an infectious enthusiasm about the bandıs work and rockabilly music in general.

"I was into the hardcore punk scene as a kid," he says, "but when I followed the music back to the beginnings of rock ın ıroll, what I heard sounded absolutely savage. It was the kind of music that any kid could do."

"Thatıs what their hearts told them to do," chimes in the bandıs rhythm guitarist Jon Porth, "and they went and did it."... »»»

There are few women who would embark on a month-long tour while seven months pregnant, but leave it to Kim Docter, singer/guitarist/songwriter for the Chicago-based Moonshine Willy.

Docter is speaking from her Chicago home a day before embarking on the tour, supporting their third album for Bloodshot, "Bastard Child."

The band was started by Docter and singer/bassist Mike Luke in 1993. The line-up has changed over time and now also includes Chris Estrada on mandolin, Chris Ganey on drums, Jessica Dilly on violin and Chuck Uchida on guitar.

Like many on the alt. country scene, Docter's musical background was more rooted in the punk rock boom of the late seventies and early eighties than in traditional country music, which she discovered later.

"I never listened to a lot of country music, and I never listened to a lot of folk, though I grew up in a somewhat rural area in California (Stockton; also home to Chris Isaak), so by osmosis I'd hear some country, but I never really paid attention to it."... »»»

Chris Hillman is a living, breathing, musical history. He's been with so many groups and collaborations that listing them all would fill up an entire article. The three whose legacy should endure are The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Desert Rose Band.

Over the last 20 years, Hillman has also found time for a number of solo albums, with the latest, "Like A Hurricane" just released on Sugar Hill.

"It's just a bunch of songs I wrote," says Hillman of his new disc. "The one thing I didn't realize until it was done was that it touches on every style of music that I've played in the last 35 years."

"We started to make an acoustic album, and the tracks just weren't catching anything on fire. For the first time in 35 years, I had to recut everything. I brought in (veteran producer) Richie Podolor, and we redid most of it electrically and kept only two cuts from the original project."

The overall album sounds a lot like Desert Rose Band. "It should. That was my band," says Hillman, who in his other groups was overshadowed by more high-profile members.... »»»

Dave Alvin's version of California is a little bit different than the one you're used to hearing. In Dave Alvin's world, not everything in the Golden State glitters.

"If you never drive more than one mile from the ocean, your concept of California is every bad joke you've heard someone from New York make," Alvin says during a recent interview, "but if you go to Bakersfield or Downey, where I grew up, it's another reality. Not everyone's writing screenplays."

Grim words from a man expert at delivering them. Alvin, who started out playing fast-driving R&B and rock along with his brother Phil in The Blasters in the early Eighties, has slowed things down a bit over the last decade.

With "Blackjack David," his latest album, he delivers the fifth in a body of work examining life among the down and out.

In Alvin's world, rock n' roll pioneer Bill Haley dies by himself in a dark hotel room near the Rio Grande; a ne'er-do-well in a $30-a-night airport hotel room smokes cigarettes... »»»

Like most country singers of her generation, Tammy Wynette (who was buried Thursday) came from a background of rural poverty and had to work hard for everything she got.

And like many country stars of her generation, she also lived out too many of her songs - which in her case meant a lot of abusive relationships and broken hearts.

By all accounts, she finally did find a happy marriage. By that time, health problems were making her life difficult in other ways. Wynette underwent numerous operations for a never fully explained stomach problem. She became addicted to painkillers. At some concerts over the last couple of years, she appeared in obvious discomfort, apparently having difficulty even breathing, let alone singing.

Yet it was not for nothing that she became known as "The First Lady Of Country Music." Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn had more chart success, and were certainly great singers in their own right, but as a pure vocalist, Wynette outshone them both.... »»»

With IIIrd Tyme Out, four-time winners of the Vocal Group of the Year Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association, you expect great harmonies and equally fine picking.

But there's also the unexpected, such as an occasional non-bluegrass song presented in a harmony-rich setting.

That's why it made perfect sense that lead vocalist Russell Moore had been recording "Milk Cow Blues" at Doobie Shea studios in Boone's Mill, Va., just before an interview.

And doing it as a solo vocal at that.

"It's a little stretch for us and maybe for everybody else," Moore says, "but it's a fun song to do, and being from Texas I heard a lot of swing-influenced stuff."

"Even with our first recording we a song called ŒMiles and Miles of Texas,' which is swing-influenced, and we did ŒSteel Guitar Rag,' which has the same sort of feel. We like to throw one in every now and then."

The Georgia-based quintet recently released "Live At The Mac," its third album for Rounder Records and sixth overall since forming in 1991, and is polishing material for a new album due early next year.... »»»

Some people like rich chocolate cake, replete with several layers and thick, sugary frosting. Mark Olson just wants the basic ingredients, thank you, and he's staying light on the extras.

How else to explain why the singer/songwriter left The Jayhawks for a life of making, producing, and selling his own albums? His first complete work, the rustically sweet "Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers," has steadily built an audience, despite being self-released.

And Olson says in a recent phone interview from his Joshua Tree, Calif., home that another effort, "Pacific Coast Ramblers," which should include Black Crowes guitarist Mike Ford, will be out "as soon as I can pull the whole thing together and put it through the system."

The musical process is definitely a new one for Olson, who announced that he would be leaving his old band after their impressive release, "Tomorrow The Green Grass."

That work marked a progression by the group. Where the band had once focused on fuzz-toned... »»»

Before being rescued and rehabilitated by Reba, "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" was an inexplicably huge mid-Seventies hit for that world-renowned vocalist Vicki Lawrence.

Vicki who?

Aw come on, you know Vicki Lawrence. She started off as a regular on "The Carol Burnett Show," not because she was a great comedienne but because she bore a strong resemblance to Ms. Burnett. From there she went on to host a TV game show based on a board game and starred in "Mama's Family," the sitcom tied with "Step By Step" for worst of all time.

A checkered career, if ever there was one. Still, "The Night the Lights Went Out" was a monster hit, all over the radio. A story song brimming over with sex, betrayal and murder, it seemed a natural to be made into a movie.

The only problem was it was pretty convoluted, with one murder unsolved and some other unanswered questions such as why would a guy being hanged cause the lights all over the Peach State to go out? (I mean I've heard that firing up the electric chair causes prison lights to flicker, but a noose? and the whole darn state?)... »»»

Jo Dee Messina released her first single, the breezy uptempo road song "Heads Carolina, Tails California," early in 1996. That song and its follow-up, "You're Not in Kansas Anymore," both reached the Top Ten on the country charts, but then after those initial successes, her next two singles bombed at radio.

Instead of quickly releasing a new album to regain her lost momentum, the Massachusetts native seemed to disappear from the country scene for quite awhile.

Now she's back and better than ever, though, with her sophomore album just released, the high-energy, upbeat "I'm Alright," and its first single "Bye Bye" having just spent two weeks at number one on the country charts.

Recently, Messina discussed the new album and the reasons for her disappearance.

The interview almost didn't even happen, though, due to a disaster on the road. "Oh my God! We were in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. We were supposed to leave at 10 at night and get into Nashville at 8 the next morningŠAnd the... »»»

I don't want to get into all that," says Patty Loveless from a plush sofa at Nashville's tony Hermitage Hotel. Nothing nasty about her tone, mind you; it's just that with 10 interviews ahead of her today, she's pacing herself.

And besides, Loveless has never been comfortable with spilling her guts about her personal life to just any shnook with a notebook and a tape recorder.

Over the last few years, though, Loveless has had plenty to fret about. In 1995, her older brother Roger fought off a potentially fatal liver ailment.

Shortly after that, her sister, Dottie, died from emphysema at 49. Her husband, producer Emory Gordy, Jr., faced emergency surgery for a life-threatening bout of pancreatitis. And Loveless herself was hospitalized for pneumonia during the winter of 1996-97.

But you won't find her doing any public therapy on Oprah any time soon. Instead, the emotional fallout from these events is kept tucked away, to be used as fuel for some of the most heart-rending vocal performances Nashville has known in a while.... »»»

Nearly 20 years into this thing, Jason and the Scorchers are still going at it like whirling dervishes.

Certainly, that's the scene on a Friday night at Tramps, the New York City roots-music nightclub. The Scorchers have taken the stage scant minutes before midnight, all in an effort to garner support for their new double live album, Midnight Roads And Stages Seen, hitting stores four days later.

True to form, the band is loud. Guitarist Warner Hodges, drummer Perry Bags and new bassist Kenny Ames just kind of stand on the stage, soaking it all in.

Finally, when Jason Ringenberg, the hiccuppy, lanky lead singer takes the stand and belts out the opening line of "Self-Sabotage," the place just explodes. Soon, Ringenberg is jumping and galloping around the stage, the fringe on his shirt keeping time with his frenetic movements.

And Hodges and Ames will eventually spin round and round as the band breaks into classics like "Broken Whiskey Glass," or "If Money Talks." Neither misses a note or a beat, all the more amazing because Hodges has a habit of hefting his guitar around his upper torso while in mid-riff.... »»»

Learning How to Live" is not just the title track but the predominant theme on Mike Ireland and Holler's Sub Pop album debut.

Songwriter Ireland takes us on an emotional journey that progresses from despair to acceptance. His skill at creating such powerful traditional country music would suggest that Ireland had grown up an avid country fan.

In fact, the appreciation for country music is a fairly recent development in Ireland's musical evolution.

"It was around a lot," says Ireland. "I was particularly exposed to the crossover stuff of the late Sixties and early Seventies. But as a kid, I wanted nothing to do with it."

Ireland says the conversion to country was a gradual process. "During my adult life it just kind of crept back in," Ireland observes. "Slowly but surely you find yourself listening to George Jones, and that kind of pushes you in different directions, and you start listening to other artists. After a while you're like, 'Wow, I'm listening to a lot of country music'."... »»»

If you're looking for people who pioneered "alternative country," check out Joe Ely. Long before that phrase existed, Ely created two of the genre's greatest albums. His self-titled 1977 debut and the following year's "Honky Tonk Masquerade" are regarded by some as two of the finest albums of any type ever released.

Ely, 50, has now maintained a viable recording career continuously for more than 20 years, including his brand new "Twistin' In The Wind," without anything remotely approaching a hit.

Except for two albums for Hightone in the Eighties, Ely's entire output has been on MCA - the kind of major label people assume will give a quick boot to anyone who never goes gold.

Maybe that's why Ely seems almost ignored - or perhaps just taken for granted - by the alt.-country fans who should be treating him as a God. They'd have to question their own assumption that major labels are the minions of the devil.

When it's suggested that Ely could get more press if he followed Steve Earle's lead and got himself arrested, Ely laughs and says, "I spent enough time in jail when I was growing up to last me for a lifetime."... »»»

With one foot firmly planted in Texas honky tonks and the other in the Bakersfield Sound of Buck Owens, The Derailers chug along.

Their major label debut, "Reverb Deluxe" on Sire doesn't make a lot of changes to the band's basic love of Bakersfield and the Lone Star state with a dose of Sixties styled pop harmonies.

Lead singer Tony Villanueva says from a pit stop in New Mexico, "We wanted to have some improvement in our songwriting and improvement in our sound, and I think that naturally happens through time."

"There has been (improvement), but we didn't move too far away from what our general path has been and still is."

If you're getting the sense that these guys - Villanueva along with co-leader guitarist and occasional lead vocalist Brian Hofeldt, bassist Ethan Shaw and drummer Terry Kirkendall - keep good company when it comes to country, you're right. No sticking their fingers in the air to check the latest musical currents.

Hofeldt and Villanueva, both 30, shared a long love of country dating back to their Portland, Ore. days where both grew up.... »»»

On first read, the bio accompanying Kris Tyler's debut, "What A Woman Knows," seems almost too good to be true. First, she writes a letter to Mary Chapin Carpenter, asking for advice, and then gets an answer. She takes a television job after college and wins an Emmy.

Later, a friend passes her demo tape to Robert Reynolds of The Mavericks, his wife Trisha (as in Yearwood) hears the tape and calls Tyler on a Saturday morning to encourage her to come to Nashville. Her debut album is produced by industry heavyweights Emory Gordy Jr. and Tony Brown. It's the stuff of a mini-series or blockbuster novel. And it's all true.

Tyler has made a well crafted, well written debut album. The lyrics reflect a literacy, maturity and integrity missing from a great deal of the work current mainstream artists, both male and female. Make no mistake, this is not Americana or alt.country. It's a country record not unlike the early work of George Strait. It's an affirmation of Tyler's skill as a writer that veterans like Gordy and Brown let her work shine through instead of loading it with songs by sure-hit Music Row writers.... »»»

In his first and so far (cross your fingers!) only starring role in a major motion picture, John Mellencamp tries to emulate James Dean and Marlon Brando. He wants to be perceived as a brooding loner, a misunderstood rebel. But he comes across more like a mumbling moron.

In "Falling From Grace" based on one of Larry ("Lonesome Dove") McMurtry's few stinkers, Mellencamp plays Bud Parks, a young man from Doak City, Ind. Doak City (Doak should probably be spelled with an R instead of an A as you'll soon see) is the kind of place where they still play Hank Senior on the radio, and the big thing for the kids to do on a Saturday night is drink whiskey, shoot pistols and strap themselves into a coffin-sized metal box that their drunken friends will then hurl from a speeding pick-up truck. It's probably supposed to be a metaphor for the constraints of small-town life - either that or it's a way to impress those chicks who are really into roadburn.... »»»

Being a maverick isn't that hard. Nor is being a Maverick. At least that's how Robert Reynolds, bassist for the edgy, sometimes country, band The Mavericks, sees the quartet circa 1998.

"It's unusual to be married to a group like this, and we have our private lives," says Reynolds, husband of Trisha Yearwood. "Our marriages, children, what have you. In my case, I've got on one hand an entertainer and a band I'm married to. I probably suffer from multiple personality syndrome."

The latter marriage - as a member of The Mavericks - is not one based on the been there, done that syndrome.

Nope, this is a band - lead singer Raul Malo, drummer Paul Deakin, lead guitarist Nick Kane and Reynolds - that is content to change musical directions as it ages.

On its first major label album, "From Hell to Paradise," the Miami-bred band clearly honed a country sound. That continued with "What a Crying Shame" in 1994, with a strong tilt by Malo to Roy Orbison vocally.... »»»

As the war between mainstream and alternative country rages on, Jim Lauderdale ranks as perhaps its greatest double agent. Not only has he successfully infiltrated both sides, but he has done so while remaining anonymous to the general public.

Lauderdale has achieved his success as a songwriter. He has had seven songs on George Strait albums (with an eighth on the way). He has also had hits by Patty Loveless, Mark Chesnutt and Vince Gill.

On the alternative side, he had three songs on Joy Lynn White's "The Lucky Few," the first two cuts on Mandy Barnett's debut and a bunch of cuts by his former mate Buddy Miller. Among many others.

As a recording artist, he's been just another casualty. His five previous albumshaven't sold at all. One wasn't even released. His latest, and RCA debut, is "Whisper," which makes a conscious effort to be radio-friendly.

Being a successful songwriter has its price. There's a constant temptation to give your most commercial songs to established hitmakers rather than cutting them yourself. "I have to pay the bills," says Lauderdale.... »»»

You might say Chris Knight wants to be a Steve Earle in a world that already has one.

His songs hit hard (Check out "Love and a .45," which tells us "one'll kill you/one'll keep you alive," but never tells us which does what). The music is spare. And Knight's demeanor is full of earnestness and sincerity.

"It was something that I always wanted to do," he says of writing songs while taking a short break from rehearsing with his band. "I heard Steve Earle in '86. I started writing songs three months after I heard "Guitar Town" (Earle's now-classic debut album). I just liked where he was coming from with his writing. I identified with it, and I felt I could come from the same place, inside of me, writing that way."

Knight's self-titled debut contains 12 songs striving for the exact mix of complexity and raw, heart-on-your-sleeve emotional fervor Earle has distilled so well. "Try not to think of music so much as something to dance to," Knight explains. "Think of it as, maybe, literature."... »»»

It's as difficult to pigeonhole Cheri Knight's second solo album, "The Northeast Kingdom," as it is to pigeonhole the woman herself.

Though Knight made a name for herself as the bassist/vocalist for the Boston-based alt. country kingpins the Blood Oranges earlier in the decade, "The Northeast Kingdom" veers toward the melodic, Beatlesque rock of Sam Phillips as often as it evokes, say, Richard Thompson or the familiar territory of the Blood Oranges; not particularly a country album, yet not a complete break with the past by any means.

And this from an album which actually features her fellow ex-Oranges Mark Spencer (guitar) and Jim Ryan (mandolin) as part of the studio band; as close to a full-blown Blood Oranges reunion as one is likely to see at this point.

Since the Blood Oranges called it a day in 1994 Knight has recorded two solo albums and has divided her time between music and raising flowers on a farm in western Massachusetts near her home in Hatfield. Not exactly the life that one might expect of a typical country or rock musician.... »»»

Though her arrival on the country music scene appears to some to be unorthodox, punker Neko Case put out a terrific album recalling the legacy of such trailblazers as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson.

Originally released in Canada last August, Case's debut, "The Virginian," featuring her band the Boyfriends, was released in the U.S. on Bloodshot in February.

Hailing from Alexandria, Va., Case was first exposed to country music by her grandmother. "I didn't realize it when I was a little girl," Case recalls, "but it was really important to see women like Loretta and Dolly - successful women who wrote their own songs and took a powerful emotional stance on things."

Case went through a period in her teens when she drifted away from country into punk rock, but has since regained new appreciation for country music. "When I was about 17, punk rock, aside from The Cramps and X, had become way too macho. It just wasn't a place where I was getting any satisfaction."... »»»

First, the Thompson Brothers put out their debut EP, "Cows on Main Street."

And in late January, "Blame It On the Dog" becomes the trio's first full-length CD.

Why the fascination with animals, demonstrated by the two album titles?

³People are reading into it too much and thinking that we have a little bit too much fondness for farm animals,² lead singer Andy Thompson says with a laugh, ³but I donıt think thatıs right."

"We named the first one 'Cows on Main Streetı because weıre from Massachusetts, and everyone thinks weıre from a big city. There were actually cows on Main Street where we grew up, and they used to get out of the fence and block traffic and stuff and make you late for school. Just about the only thing you would get in the police report every Sunday, besides maybe a kitten caught in a tree, was cows on Main Street. It was just a big joke, you know.

³And we named the other one 'Blame It on the Dogı because, first of all, Nipper, being the RCA dog, has a lot to do with it. And we had dogs in the studio the whole recording process. You can actually hear them barking on the last song."... »»»

In the Sixties, Buck Owens was country's top artist by a substantial margin. In the Seventies, as his hits became increasingly silly and then stopped coming, Buck's image was dominated by his role on television's Hee Haw.

In the Eighties, with his classic records out-of-print, Owens was either a national joke or a forgotten man. Then, Dwight Yoakam came along to make Bakersfield music fashionable again and even brought Owens back briefly to the top of the charts in 1988.

In the Nineties, Owens has become an icon to people on both sides of the country music fence. A recent reissue of five albums from the Sixties hasn't hurt.

But this man who never had much to do with Nashville (or it with him) stays in Bakersfield. He runs a major corporation that includes radio stations and his new pride and joy, Buck Owens' Crystal Palace.

That's "an all-in-one restaurant, museum and theatre," preserving Bakersfield as the real-country alternative to Nashville by honoring both the past and the present.... »»»

A rhinestone sparkles like a diamond from far away, and it's only when you get close to it that you can see it's actually a worthless piece of glass and paste. Much like the movie "Rhinestone" which looked like a sensation on the marquee, but in the theatre it stunk like a skunk's gym locker.

Dolly Parton plays a country singer (now there's a stretch for you) in New York City. She works at a bar called the Rhinestone for a sleazoid named Freddy Ugo, who proudly displays his initials F-U on his suits and his door and anywhere else they'll fit.

Dolly wants out of her contract, but F-U won't have it. (And once you've seen the caliber of the other acts at the Rhinestone you'll understand why. One hat act manqué does a number called "Big Hunks of My Sweetie" about a woman wearing a wedding gown which gets caught in a tractor, and she ends up scattered all over the lower 48.)

Dolly bets Freddy that she can turn anybody into a country singer and to prove it she'll do just that with the first guy she sees.... »»»

When Wade Hayes burst on the scene in 1995, he quickly shot to the top of the charts with his first single and title track "Old Enough to Know Better" with his honky tonk style and his deep baritone.

A few more hits followed, the ballads "I'm Still Dancin' With You" and "What I Meant to Say."

The follow-up album, "On a Good Night," released 18 months ago, covered the same musical territory, but the disc did not do as well on the commercial front with the title track the biggest hit.

This was during the time when hat acts were king. To an extent, Hayes was lumped in, seemingly because he wore a cowboy hat, even though his sound wasn't particularly watered down country pop.

Hayes continues in the more traditional vein with his third disc, "When the Wrong One Loves You Right," being released Jan. 27. The disc contains a mixture of honky tonkers ("Tore Up From the Floor Up" being the... »»»

Have you heard Freakwater yet, Amy Ray? Emily Saliers? The Indigo Girls would do well to shiver when this stuff floats through their radio speakers.

Freakwater does what few bands have been able to do in this era of modern country, which is take the stark, acoustic stuff from the olden days and breathe new life into it.

What's that? Certainly, the concept is nothing new. Will Oldham makes you think you're in the Appalachian hinterlands with the songs he makes with his Palace collective, and Uncle Tupelo got their twanger's cred by bringing traditional folk songs screaming into today with "March 16-20, 1992."

But one might argue Freakwater is the real deal, simply because they write their own songs and make them live and dance. They make them their own. With the point-and-counterpoint of Catherine Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean's voices, not to mention the addition of former... »»»

The Dixie Chicks knew they wanted to take their music to the next level, and that meant Nashville.

After three self-released albums, it was time to move on. And after Sony label executive Blake Chancey caught the reconfigured band at La Zona Rosa in Austin, Texas, he signed them up a few years ago.

In this day and age of country, some artists put out pop music masquerading as country.

But that did not seem to affect sisters Martie Seidel and Emily Erwin and lead singer Natalie Maines.

Maines said that was not a worry. "That question to me is funny because I don't think you can have fiddle, dobro and three-part harmony and have it turn pop," she says with a laugh from the band's Dallas offices.

The debut, "Wide Open Spaces," comes out Jan. 27 on the relaunched Monument label, one-time home of Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton and Kris Kristofferson.

Erwin says the "most important thing to get across is to really highlight our strengths because we had these horror stories of you go... »»»

If James Brown is the Hardest Working Man In Show Business, then Paul Burch is one of the busiest. Consider first his solo career, which has resulted in two albums - "Pan-American Flash" and "Wire to Wire" - released on France's Dixie Frog label in a little more than a year.

Also consider his second career, as the vibes player for the Nashville-based Lambchop, who have a sizable following of their own.

The 31-year-old Burch, who is seeing his first album finally released in the States in January, has always had a love for music. "I was real lucky. I heard a lot of stuff. I used to go to the Smithsonian a lot. My dad and mom used to take me and so I heard a lot of string band music. I was crazy for records."

Burch started out as a drummer while living in Indiana and played in a post-high school group with future BR5-49 bassist Jay McDowell. Though Burch describes this group as playing a mixture of rockabilly and old blues numbers, he was also becoming more appreciative of country music as a teenager.... »»»

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