Honor roll: Country albums

Each of these Country albums has received at least one award nomination. They are ranked by honors received.

Album:Cold Mountain: Music From The Motion Picture

Cold Mountain: Music From The Motion Picture

Gabriel Yared

Director Anthony Minghella’s take on Charles Frazier’s bestselling novel is powered by wistful romanticism and a dramatic structure that’s been compared to Homer’s Odyssey. That latter creative tack parallels the Coens’ O Brother, Where Art Thou in crucial ways, and is further enhanced by another T-Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack of Appalachian-inflected folk traditionals, sympathetic originals by diverse songwriters (Elvis Costello and Sting), and a core of gritty performances (the White Stripe’s Jack White and Alison Krauss) that rise above mere…

Album:O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Original Soundtrack

O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Original Soundtrack

T-Bone Burnett, Various Artists

The best soundtracks are like movies for the ears, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? joins the likes of Saturday Night Fever and The Harder They Come as cinematic pinnacles of song. The music from the Coen brothers’ Depression-era film taps into the source from which the purest strains of country, blues, bluegrass, folk, and gospel music flow. Producer T Bone Burnett enlists the voices of Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, and kindred spirits for performances of traditional material, in arrangements that are either a…

Album:Home (Dixie Chicks)

Home

Dixie Chicks

The Dixie Chicks aren’t old enough to remember when radio programmed pop records next to country, rock, folk, and beyond, but their Texas DNA tells them that’s the way music was meant to be heard. On Home, which they coproduced in Austin with Lloyd Maines, the father of lead singer Natalie Maines, they strip off the star-making gloss of Nashville and get down to the meat of the matter, turning out an acoustic record that gives a big Texas howdy to bluegrass. But that’s only the framework they use to salute all their influences, from the raggedy rock of…

Album:Lonely Runs Both Ways

Lonely Runs Both Ways

Alison Krauss, Union Station

Nobody makes somber sound more exquisite than Alison Krauss. She’s come an awfully long way from her days as a teenage fiddle prodigy, as her glamour gown on this CD’s cover suggests and the bittersweet maturity of the music confirms. Krauss exchanges her bluegrass fiddle for the chamber strains of viola on much of the material, including four songs by Robert Lee Castleman (whose “The Lucky One,” “Let Me Touch You for Awhile,” and “Forget About It” were previously popularized by Krauss). Castleman’s compositions showcase the emotional intimacy and interpretive…

Album:A Ghost Is Born

A Ghost Is Born

Wilco

The infectious twang and pop hooks of Wilco’s former efforts may be fading fast, but A Ghost Is Born is still a rewarding effort that demands repeated listening. The group’s fifth album extends upon the experimentalism of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot with angular, blues-soaked guitar riffs (“At Least That’s What You Said,” “Hell Is Chrome”), a handful of sparse, yet catchy tunes (smack dab in the middle of the disc) that will surely keep college radio stations smiling, and a lengthy track that descends into mere static (“Less Than You Think”). Frontman Jeff…

Album:Van Lear Rose

Van Lear Rose

Loretta Lynn

Garage-rock hero Jack White producing honky-tonk legend Loretta Lynn? And Lynn comparing him to renowned Nashville producer Owen Bradley? Yes, we all know the world is rapidly shrinking, but now we’ve seen everything. Most stunning of all—they nailed it. For the first time, Lynn has written all of an album’s songs, and her lyrics are as cutting and incisive as ever. On the powerful, biting “Family Tree,” she brings her babies to the home of her husband’s mistress so that they can see the “woman that’s burning down our family tree.” Throughout she cunningly…

Album:Livin', Lovin', Losin'

Livin', Lovin', Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers

Various Artists

Given their impact on generations of country, country-rock, and bluegrass acts, it’s amazing the Louvins haven’t had a modern tribute before. Unlike tribute albums that stumble through inconsistent performances and ill-matched material, this one soars, the selections well matched to the paired artists. Joe Nichols and Rhonda Vincent capture “Cash on the Barrelhead’s” sassy humor. Emmylou Harris—who spearheaded the Louvin revival—and Rodney Crowell are relaxed on the Louvin hit “My Baby’s Gone.” Merle Haggard and the album’s producer Carl Jackson capture the…

Album:Timeless

Timeless: The Songs of Hank Williams

Various Artists

Like 1999’s tribute to Gram Parsons, Timeless: The Songs of Hank Williams revives the tired “tribute” concept and applies it in homage to a key figure in country music. Interpreting songs from across Hank Williams’s short and troubled career, a range of high-profile artists use different approaches with equally gratifying results. Tom Petty, Sheryl Crow and Hank Williams III play familiar songs with traditional arrangements (Ms Crow’s yodel is an eye opener); Beck, Mark Knopfler and Keb’ Mo’ stay closer to their own idioms. Keith Richards’ reedy vocal…

Album:Breathe

Breathe

Faith Hill

From the suggestive series of photos in the CD’s packaging to the aerobicized dance-floor workouts within, Faith Hill refuses to concede an inch of crossover dominance to Shania Twain. Except for a seductive duet with husband Tim McGraw on “Let’s Make Love” and an occasional pinch of fiddle or steel guitar, there’s little here to characterize Hill as a country artist. As pop, the results range from pretty (“Breathe,” “Love Is a Sweet Thing”) to pretty slight (“I Got My Baby,” “If My Heart Had Wings”) to borderline inane (“Bringing Out the Elvis,” the voyeuristic…

Album:Walk the Line: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Walk the Line: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

T-Bone Burnett

This is not a review about Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon’s hair. However—as any self-respecting fan knows—in country music, after proving you can pluck a guitar and carry a tune, the power of the right hairstyle is not to be underestimated. Johnny Cash, in fact, was famously vain about his locks—perhaps one of the few things he was vain about—and many a guitar store employee can attest to the fact that when the Man in Black came in to buy his special brand of guitar pick, his hair was dyed a jet black more often seen on a boy of 20 than a man of…

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