The Great Divide
Willie Nelson
Lost Highway

Along with Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson has been riding the recent wave of original-redneck-geezer-glory among the young, hip No Depression set. It's no surprise, then, that Nelson has teamed up with a number of artists who just barely graduated from their Huggies Pull-Ups like Kid Rock and Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20. Like the long and erratic trajectory of Willie Nelson's life and career, his latest effort, The Great Divide, has plenty of highs and lows.

Let's start high. Skip track 1 -- Rob Thomas pissed on it. Move to track 2, "Mendocino County Line." This is vintage Willie, but with Lee Ann Womack spit-shining the grit into Nashville kitsch.

Enter Kid Rock. Did someone hawk a hairball? What's with the electric one-chord jams, Grandpa? Skip.

"The Great Divide," track 6, is it. Everyone buggers off and lets Willie barbecue his own soul with an extra smooth mariachi sauce. A beauty.

Track 8. "This Face." Goosebumps. Tears. Again, no young artists fouling the fountain of Geritol here.


Willie Nelson covering Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time." Too good to be true! When will he cover "She Bop" or the DeVinyls' "I Touch Myself"?

Another Rob Thomas screw-up; skip. No, wait, go back. The languorous chorus!

Track 12. Here we go. Bonnie Raitt and Willie crying the sands of time together.

You gotta get it ... if you feel like it. You might feel like it even more after Nelson's stop here in Colorado Springs -- still unofficial at this point, but we'll keep you posted.

-- Noel Black

Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'
Hank Williams III
Curb Records

Like any good progeny, Hank Williams the Third has been spending as much energy as possible rebelling against his family. Touring the country with a hellbilly rig named Assjack, painted up like Slipknot and angering the purists, Hank 3 is a schizophrenic example of all that is alt. in alt.country. But even the most defiant offspring still have a yearn to explore their roots, and in Williams' case, his lie in 4/4 time on a beer-stained dance floor.

With Lovesick, Hank 3 milks his hereditary talent for all it's worth. His eloquent, throwback lyrics evoke his grandfather's songs in their honest, everyman's imagery and plodding, workhorse percussion, but remain modern due to Williams' instrumentation and arrangement.

"Lovin' & Huggin'," a minute-and-fifty-two-second song about finding and losing love on a Satiddy night could have been a Depression-era truck stop hit, yet slightly distorted guitar work keeps the piece grounded in the present. On songs like "Callin' Your Name," "One Horse Town," and the title track, the high, nasal, vocal resemblance to Hank Senior is haunting, while slightly angry songs "Trashville" and "7 Months, 39 Days" allow a bit of Hank 3's persona to shine through.

It would have been easy to let Lovesick slip into a smarmy, "Hey, did I mention my grandpa is Hank Williams?" exercise in capitalization, but Hank 3 avoids that trap and keeps his work original and new. His subtle infusion of attitude and perspective into a vintage genre simply affirms the artistic country legacy of the Williams family, rebellion and all.

-- Kristen Sherwood

Always Got Tonight
Chris Issak
Reprise Records
In stores Feb. 12

Somebody gave Chris Issak a Wet-Nap and he soaked up all of the ooey-gooey love fluff that coated his work so far, leaving him with an album that retains all of the romance with none of the whine.

"One Day," the first track of his new release, is a veritable showcase of Issak's impressive range and near-yodel, matched with a radio-ready tune sure to ricochet in your girlfriend's head. The track sets the tone for the rest of the album, a commercial masterpiece grabbing influences from Sugar Ray, Tom Petty and even Guns 'N' Roses toward the orchestral end of the empire.

Despite the heavily produced sound, Issak stays true. Each song evokes a separate string of emotions, cohesively blended into a collection that sparks with broken hearts and frustrated admirers --mood music for hip, swingin', lovesick third wheels.

With Always Got Tonight, Issak has grabbed the musician's brass ring and created an album that is sure to chart high and make buckets of cash while cementing his position as a creative, legitimate artist -- a combination that will benefit the listener more than anyone else.

-- Kristen Sherwood

Barricades & Brickwalls
Kasey Chambers
Lost Highway
In stores Feb. 12

How does Kasey Chambers manage to be so dang good? She's not even from here, yet she can use Americana imagery like Appalachian snake handlers use faith. A Chambers album, especially Barricades, has all the elements -- fine fiddling, understated banjos, subtle percussion and exquisite notes that seem to pour from the guitar. Each song is tied together with Chambers' sharp-edged mountain voice -- matched only by Iris DeMent -- be it a hillbilly hoe-down like "Still Feelin Blue" or a thoroughly modern hymn like the steadfast "This Mountain."

Her lyrics are poetic and feminine, a sort of country Jewel. Her most striking works are simple, repetitive songs like "Falling Into You" while her simple phrases, proclamations like "I been left unattended," are transformed into breast-baring heart piercers when performed by Chambers and her lone acoustic guitar.

Throughout Barricades & Brickwalls, the ears are met with finely crafted arrangements, appropriately spartan. Never once is a song laden with musical BS, never too many instruments and never too many vocals. Having produced a body of work even better than her amazing debut album The Captain, Chambers has made the sophomore leap. She does everything but fall flat.

-- Kristen Sherwood



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