Singing, Playing, Not Talking

Top of the World Tour Live CD –
Dixie Chicks

OK, the Chicks made a lot of noise in 2003. But 2004 will likely find the Texas threesome making more jolts on the charts. The women are superb pickers and singers. They think for themselves. They select good, and sometimes exceptional, songs in a format that doesn’t usually do so – just ask Toby.

The notes in the two-CD set say the recording is “entirely live” with no studio overdubs. Most of us aren’t high on live recordings, but the Chicks pull off a nice effort. Fans will find the CD worth picking up for fizzing takes on older hits and newer material from their last album, Home, plus a superb addition to the set, Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi.” Let’s hope for more music and less talk from Natalie and crew this year. B

Back to the Well –
Kenny Rogers

The Gambler wears casual, flannel-lined clothes on this new disc. A duet with bluegrass queen Alison Krauss, a dobro-laced title song that celebrates home and grounding and all such things. Is Mr. Rogers trying to be the next bluegrass king?

Back to the Well also finds Rogers mining familiar territories, doing the bedroom ballad thing on “Listen to the Rain” and steaming it up with Dolly Parton on an “Islands in the Stream”-like song, “Undercover.” Rogers knows what works for him, and he’s still holding, not folding. “It’s a Beautiful Life” is a great song celebrating the love of family. “Tears in God’s Eyes” is a song that can truly put tears in your eyes. “Harder Cards” is not only a song about spousal abuse, but also about not passing judgment on someone unless you’ve walked in their shoes. B+

I’m One Of You –
Hank Williams Jr.

By golly, Bocepheus has put out a great record again. What I want to know is how are they going to keep this off the airwaves?

Hank Jr. has long since ceased being the “We Are Young Country” poster child, and he went from winning Entertainer of the Year prizes to putting out some hit-and-miss albums in the 1990s.

The Almeria Club Recordings was a strong return to form, but it had a stripped-down, Americana sound that wasn’t a perfect fit at country radio.

Montgomery Gentry, Trace Adkins and Toby Keith can resemble Hank, but only Hank is Bocephus. One of country’s best known, most marketable stars arrives back on the scene with timeless-sounding, Southern rock-tinged country. He didn’t write most of these songs, penning only the I’m-getting-drunk manifesto “What’s on the Bar” and a nice tribute called “Waylon’s Guitar.” Welcome back

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