Music Reviews: New lights and second chances

Around the Bend – Randy Travis
In the late 1980s, Randy Travis stormed into Nashville and helped launch the new country traditionalist movement. Here in the late ’00s, we need the deep-voiced, 49-year-old Tar Heel to try and put another traditional twist to the teeny-bop sounds coming out of 16th Avenue.

Around the Bend is the first genuinely country album in ten years from the superstar. This CD should return Travis, one of the all-time top-selling solo country artists, to the mainstream pinnacle. This deluxe-edition CD/DVD includes the 11-track album, a DVD containing two of the singer’s performances from the recent CMT Unplugged at Studio 330, the “Faith In You” music and performance videos, plus a six-month free online membership card to the new Randy Travis Fan Club. And the songs on the CD are awesome, from the first single, “Dig Two Graves,” to “You Didn’t Have a Good Time.” Welcome back, R.T. A+

Dawn of a New Day – Crystal Shawanda
The last time a songstress came to Nashville claiming to be an Ojibwe Indian from Ontario, Canada – in the form of Shania Twain – it worked out pretty darn well. Crystal Shawanda, a citizen of both the United States and Canada, was born in Ontario and grew up on the Wikwemikong reservation on Canada’s Manitoulin Island.

Crystal’s father drove a truck and would occasionally let her ride with him on his North-South run, which went through Nashville. During one of these trips, at the age of 13, Shawanda performed at Nashville’s famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and earned her first standing ovation. A few years later, she began a permanent gig at Tootsie’s. Scott Hendricks, who produced Faith Hill’s first albums, produced this Shawanda debut. Her first single, “You Can Let Go,” already has become a hit north of the border. The album’s prime cuts include “Baby You’re Back” and “Try.” B

Steps to Heaven – Charlie Louvin
Country Music Hall-of-Famer Charlie Louvin isn’t slowing down at the ripe age of 81. He’s just put out the first of two new studio albums for this fall. Steps to Heaven was recorded live with a gospel choir composed of three sisters, journeyman gospel pianist Derrick Lee and Chris Scruggs adding doghouse bass and guitar. The Alabama native had never recorded with black gospel musicians before and in doing so discovered a new musical path. “I did things on the gospel record I had no idea I could do,” Louvin says. “I’d be thinking along the way, ‘How can I do things I’ve never done before?’ And I did it.”

A veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, Louvin has seen an amazing seven decades in the music business. Just last year he scored a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Folk Album for his self-titled 2007 project. Steps to Heaven features 10 traditional gospel classics, including two Louvin Brothers songs. This album is a must-have. A-

Do You Believe Me Now – Jimmy Wayne
It’s not often country music artists get a second chance. Jimmy Wayne’s on his third go-round. He had two Top 10 smashes five years back (“Stay Gone” and “I Love You This Much”). Two record labels later, Wayne, 35, is primed for another chart-soaring journey.

Do You Believe Me Now is the next step in the North Carolinian’s evolution as an artist. Time on the road has made his voice even stronger and more seasoned. The first single, the title track, has reintroduced him to a hungry country radio audience. The rest of the album runs the gamut from the summertime fun of “I’ll Do That” to the sensual “One On One,” about a couple needing their alone time. He duets with the great Patty Loveless on “No Good for Me.”

“Patty represents the embodiment of honesty in music, to which the rest of us can only aspire,” Wayne says. C+