EW Staff
September 08, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

WILLIE NELSON
MILK COW BLUES
When Willie first heard Texas swing king Bob Wills do the title tune, he thought Wills, not bluesman Kokomo Arnold, had written it. Years later comes this first Nelson blues collection, begun in casual jams. Add in Dr. John, Jonny Lang, and B.B. King, and you’ve got a looser effort than Willie’s striking, Daniel Lanois-produced Teatro (1998). ”It wasn’t brain surgery,” Willie says of recasting this row of classics, which includes his own ”Crazy.” Of that song, he says, ”I tell people the original title was ‘Stupid.”’ 9/19

MERLE HAGGARD
IF I COULD ONLY FLY
The fall’s oddest match finds the craggy honky-tonk great joining the roster of Anti/Epitaph, a branch of the punk label that’s given us the Offspring and Rancid. Expect Hag’s trademarks — his world-weary delivery and the Western swing of his band, the Strangers — but don’t expect any Shania-style country. ”I refer to it as bad rock & roll,” he says of today’s Nashville. ”It doesn’t sound like good rock & roll or country to me,” adding ”I’m a square peg in a round hole.” A punk company sounds just about right. 10/10

JOHNNY CASH
AMERICAN III: SOLITARY MAN
This third Cash album to be produced by Rick Rubin is mostly acoustic, with guests like Tom Petty and Sheryl Crow, and covers ranging from Neil Diamond’s ”Solitary Man” to U2’s ”One.” The Man in Black has bounced back from the Parkinson’s-like malady that beset him in late 1997, says Rubin, and is ”better than he’s been in a long time. His vocals on this record are strong and beautiful and unmistakably him.” 10/17

ALSO DUE, new studio albums from … Lyle Lovett 10/3; Travis Tritt 10/3; Sara Evans 10/10; Billy Ray Cyrus 10/17; Alan Jackson 11/7.


Emmylou Harris

Red Dirt Girl 9/12

LAST TIME AROUND
Harris’ last solo work was 1995’s Wrecking Ball, though her supposed sabbatical resulted in a Gram Parsons tribute record, a live album (1998’s Spyboy), a Trio reunion, and a collaboration with Linda Ronstadt on last year’s Western Wall.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because alternative country’s foremost interpreter of her peers’ best songs has made time to write her own material, which, thankfully, meets her high standards.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Harris’ 1985 The Ballad of Sally Rose, also self-penned (with Paul Kennerley) and semiautobiographical, was relegated to obscurity. Now her new home, the classy indie label Nonesuch, is facing the challenge of marketing its first country record.
SIGNS OF ARTISTIC GROWTH
This is her most personal record, with songs like ”Bang the Drum Slowly” (a tribute to her late father). ”As bleak as it does appear,” Harris says, ”suffering is what creates the pearl I believe is potentially there in all of us.”
BIGGEST SURPRISE
”I Don’t Wanna Talk About It Now” is an unabashed tale of sexual obsession from this sometimes austere Nashville resident.
STOCK QUOTE ABOUT WHY IT’S HER BEST ALBUM YET
”Guy Clark sat me down three years ago and said, ‘You need to write your own record and I don’t care if it takes you five years to do it.’ … I let my band go, my management go, my record company go, and said, Okay, I’ve got to clear out a place for this to occur, to give it a chance … Still, I’m not going to abandon my hat as an interpreter — or, as somebody said, a scavenger — of songs.”

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