By Bobby Reed
Budget-minded fans of country music crave a bushel of bang for their buck. Nothing beats the thrill of finding a box set on sale or digging through a discount bin to find a country gem. Alan Jackson’s new CD will appeal to listeners who have enjoyed his past work — especially the bargain hunters. Clocking in at 71 minutes, Jackson’s latest release is more than twice as long as some other titles in his discography, including his hit CD from 2000, When Somebody Loves You. Jackson gracefully combines quantity with quality, making Good Time one of the best albums of his oeuvre.
Jackson is the sole composer of all 17 tracks here. He has become the rare Nashville performer who doesn’t need collaborative songwriters to help form his artistic vision. He covers a lot of ground on this expansive disc, from an uptempo duet with Martina McBride (“Never Loved Before”) to a bluegrass-flavored romp (“Long Long Way”) to a quirky slice of twang with a gospel message (“If Jesus Walked the World Today”). The subject matter for “I Wish I Could Back Up” and “If You Want to Make Me Happy” are well-trod terrain for Jackson, but the merger of his supple vocals with superb playing from the session musicians makes every cut sound fresh.
Just a Little Lovin’
Shelby Lynne’s professional journey has been far from predictable. Early in her career, Lynne was known as an interpretive country singer. Her critical breakthrough came with the 2000 album I Am Shelby Lynne, a rock-oriented effort containing all original material that she had either written or co-written. That CD earned her a Grammy Award for Best New Artist — an unusual accolade for someone who had released five albums previously.
Her powerful portrayal of Johnny Cash’s mother in the biopic Walk the Line revealed that this eclectic singer can also act.
For her 10th album, Lynne teamed up with legendary producer Phil Ramone (Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra) to record songs from the catalog of the late British chanteuse Dusty Springfield. In these new, spare arrangements, Ramone puts the focus on Lynne’s voice —which is the only instrument heard during the first 26 seconds of an aching “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” The sympathetic players, including keyboardist Rob Mathes, are a marvelous supporting cast who know how to uplift the star without getting in her way, especially on “The Look of Love” and “Breakfast in Bed.” The result is a CD that would sound great alongside albums by Norah Jones, Sade, Dionne Warwick and even Springfield herself.
Generation X connoisseurs who grew up listening to the exotic rhythms found in world beat, Talking Heads albums and Paul Simon’s Graceland might experience a slight sense of déjà vu when they hear kids cranking up the self-titled debut by Vampire Weekend. The influence of African pop is particularly evident on the tracks “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “One (Blake’s Got a New Face).”
This New York–based quartet, whose members are recent graduates of Columbia University, offer songs about topics that they know, with lyrics regarding “collegiate grief” and “sleeping on the balcony after class.”
Some of the lyrics seem impenetrable to those of us who are not former dorm-mates of these erudite young fellows, but the whimsical melodies and infectious enthusiasm compensate for the opaqueness. Listeners will be dancing or bobbing their heads so hard that the lyrical references will cease to matter.
Parents of young children should be aware that there are a few cases of clearly enunciated profanity here.
Dolly Parton is always busy. Her activities as an actress, author, philanthropist, theme park proprietor and witty talk show guest have made some folks forget that she is, first and foremost, a musician.
But Parton wrote nine of the dozen tracks on Backwoods Barbie, a strong disc that illustrates that her creativity is undiminished.
Throughout her long career, Parton, 62, frequently has juggled the tasks of composing autobiographical tunes and writing character sketches. The humorous yet poignant title cut has autobiographical lyrics, like “Don’t let these false eyelashes lead you to believe/That I’m as shallow as I look ’cause I run true and deep.” Parton’s acting skills help her convey compelling story lines in the epic heartbreak ballad “Only Dreamin’” and the bitter adultery tale “Made of Stone.”
One of the few tracks Parton did not write, “Jesus & Gravity,” is a sweeping, inspirational song that fits her penchant for sharing life lessons and homespun wisdom.
Elsewhere, she offers jaunty, countrified covers of pop hits by the Miracles (“The Tracks of My Tears”) and Fine Young Cannibals (“Drives Me Crazy”).
Jason & The Scorchers
Fervor/Lost & Found (reissue)
Big Love in a Small Town
Native Son (reissue)
Moment of Forever
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 and 1947
Good Thing Going