Music Article

Country

We review new music from Travis Tritt, Kris Kristofferson, Alan Jackson, and more

The latest in Country music

Hank Williams, country music's answer to Shakespeare, once declared, ''You got to have smelt a lot of mule manure before you can sing like a hillbilly.'' That's debatable, of course, but these three new singer-songwriters sound as if they grew up with a snootful, each applying the fragrance in a different way.

Mac McAnallly
Simple Life
Of the passel, Mac McAnally is the real writer, bending short stories and evocative slices of rural Southern life into affecting nuggets of song. ''Back Where I Come From,'' for example, recalls an era and a way of life where ''you could lie on the riverbank/Or paint your name on the water tank/Or miscount all the beers you drank.'' And ''Just That Way'' frames a couple who let miscommunication crumble the foundation of their union: ''They were married on the first of June/Went to hell on the honeymoon.'' A native of Belmont, Miss., McAnally, whose single ''It's a Crazy World'' hit the pop charts in 1977, later made his mark as a songwriter for Alabama (''Old Flame'') and Ricky Van Shelton (''Crime of Passion''). In attitude, vocal inflection, and acoustic-pop framework, he comes across here as a Southern James Taylor — introspective, expressive, and tuneful. B+

Travis Tritt
Country Club
Travis Tritt, a splinter-voiced Georgian, arrives with an affable sound somewhere between the good ol' boy honky-tonk of Joe Stampley (on Tritt's ''Country Club'') and the churning Southern rock of Hank Williams Jr. (on ''Put Some Drive in Your Country''). But while Tritt is best at capturing the disenfranchisement and pride of the small-town Southern male (''I'm Gonna Be Somebody,'' ''Son of the New South''), as a writer he lands smack on three of the Five Big Clichés of country music — trains, trucks, and getting drunk (the other two are prison and Mama) — and never ventures much beyond. B-

Alan Jackson
Here in the Real
Alan Jackson, also a Georgian, is a mail-order graduate of the George Strait School of Neotraditionalism. Yet Jackson never takes himself too seriously and can demonstrate a wry comedic flair. He hits his stride with ''Blue Blooded Woman,'' the saga of a doomed relationship: ''She's Saks Fifth Avenue perfection/And caviar and dignified/I live my life in Wal-Mart fashion/ And I like my sushi Southern fried.'' B

Kris Kristofferson
Third World Warrior
Once concerned only with finding somebody to help him make it through the night, Kris Kristofferson now turns his attention to a more important universal need — That of human freedoms. In a concept album that addresses the conflicts in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and South Africa, the singer-songwriter balances American country music stylings with Latin and African beats, and childlike calls to bravery (''The Hero'') with fervent and brooding assaults on American foreign policies (''Aguila Del Norte''). However well-intentioned this is (including a valentine titled ''Jesse Jackson,'' sung with the ubiquitous Willie Nelson), the language and images are so vague — and the music so gutless — that the songs rarely hit the head and the heart at the same time. In the end, Kristofferson would do well to listen to Holly Near's songs on the same subject. This is neither a rallying cry nor an emotional spur, merely a bore. C-

John Anderson
Too Tough to Tame
Gnome-faced John Anderson hit his commercial peak with the crossover hit ''Swingin''' in 1983, after which his career fragmented in mismanagement and formulaic records. Anderson, who couldn't decide whether he wanted to be hard-country Lefty Frizzell acolyte or a Southern boogie king, strikes a happy medium here, with a program long redneck angst (''The Tears That I Cry'') and cockeyed humor (''She Worships the Quicksand That I Walk On''). Unfortunately, it is also devoid of a big hit song to get his career back on track. B-

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
If you know banjoist Bela Fleck only from his former association with New Grass Revival, wipe that musical thought from your mind. Here, Fleck, generally considered the premier banjo player in the U.S., assembles a brilliant and eclectic set of jazzmen to play his 11 ambitious banjo-jazz composition, all instrumentals. While the picking is nothing short of astonishing (from both Fleck and drummer Roy Wooten, who coaxes percussion sounds from a guitarlike instrument), the pieces, often more akin to Dave Brubeck than to David Grisman, are at turns melodic and bluesy (''Half Moon Bay'') and itchy and uninvolving (''Mars Needs Women''). B

Originally posted Mar 16, 1990 Published in issue #5 Mar 16, 1990 Order article reprints