DISClaimer (4/17/09)

tswift-fearlessThere are several ear-opening performances in this week’s new releases.

Hank Williams Jr. is singing his face off on a striking song about our troubled economy. The Oak Ridge Boys have left their classic sound completely behind on an almost anguished-sounding reading of The White Stripes rock song “Seven Nation Army.”

As a producer, Tony Brown has outdone himself on the terrific track of the awesome Heidi Newfield single. Joe Nichols and comeback kid Josh Logan are here to remind us of how refreshing hardcore country vocals can be.

And guess what? Taylor Swift is rocking! She also has the Disc of the Day.

CHARLIE ALLEN/Proof
Writer: Charlie Allen/Brian G. White/Steve Dean; Producer: Brian G. White & Steve Dean; Publisher: U Tell Me/Multisongs/Songs From the Whitehouse/Building Bridges/Dino’s Song Shop, no performance rights listed; River Run (track) (www.charlieallenmusic.com)
—I have made no secret of my respect for this artist. He’s proudly country, and this groove-saturated drinking song is one more feather in his cap.

HEIDI NEWFIELD/What Am I Waiting For
Writer: Heidi Newfield/Ira Dean/Keith Burns/Jeffrey Steele; Producer: Tony Brown; Publisher: Gi Hit Makers/Rainy Graham/White Monkey/Morris Bedell/Banna Bear/Jeffrey Steele/BPJ, BMI; Curb
—The sparkling production, the plaintive vocal and the layered chorale in the “escape” segment of the melody are all fabulous. Delightfully ear catching in every way.

JESSICA SIMPSON/Pray Out Loud
Writer: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Columbia (ERG)
—D.O.A.

TAYLOR SWIFT/You Should Be With Me
Writer: Taylor Swift/Liz Rose; Producer: Nathan Chapman & Taylor Swift; Publisher: Sony ATV Tree/Taylor Swift/Potting Shed/Barbara Orbison/ICG, BMI/SESAC; Big Machine
—Frothy and fizzy pop-country served with sprinkles on top. Taylor’s the nerd, and her cheerleader-team-captain competition has the guy she wants. Being lovelorn has never sounded peppier, and it’s good to hear her in a dancing mode for a change.

DEREK JOSEPH/No Cool Way
Writer: Doug Erickson/Betty Miller; Producer: Randy Jack Wiggins; Publisher: Nashville Sound, BMI/ASCAP/SOCAN; Little House (www.derekjoseph.com)
—Everyone sounds like they’re trying too hard. It’s too loud. The musicians are over playing. His singing sounds forced. Relax, people, it’s just country music.

JOE NICHOLS/Believers
Writer: Ashley Gorley/Wade Kirby/Bill Luther; Producer: Brent Rowan; Publisher: Songs of Combustion/Music of Windswept/Steel Wheels/Kirbtone/Big Loud Bucks/Sony ATV/This Town, ASCAP/BMI; Universal South
—There’s something so warm and comforting about this man’s voice. Give him a song this strong, and few on Music Row can match him. When co-writer Bill Luther had out a DreamWorks single in 2001, I loved it and wrote, “Who is this guy?” With “Who You’d Be Today,” “Let’s Make Love,” “My Best Friend,” “What I Need to Do,” “How Bad Do You Want It” and now this in his resume, I’m not asking that question anymore.

DARIUS RUCKER/Alright
Writer: Darius Rucker/Frank Rogers; Producer: Frank Rogers; Publisher: Cadaja/New Sea Gayle/EMI April, ASCAP; Capitol Nashville
—It’s one of the oldest country cliches—money can’t buy happiness, material things don’t matter and the simple life is best. But in this jaunty delivery, it sounds brand new. Bopping and winning.

THE OAK RIDGE BOYS/Seven Nation Army
Writer: Jack White; Producer: Dave Cobb; Publisher: Peppermint Stripe, BMI; Quarterback (615-300-5321)
—Actually, the words “Oak Ridge Boys” do not appear anywhere on this single. Instead, it reads, “You want familiarity? Your listeners already know this song and have shown that they love it!” As performed by The White Stripes, it was a No. 1 alternative-rock hit and a 2004 Grammy Award winner. Believe it or not, the Oaks make it work for them by singing in a wildly different style. Producer Cobb is the guy behind the Shooter Jennings sound.

JOSH LOGAN/I Am What I Am
Writer: Del Gray/Dave Gibson; Producer: Del Gray; Publisher: CDB/Volunteer Jam/Little Poncho, ASCAP/BMI; Copper Creek (track) (www.myspace.com/joshlogancountry)
—I remember this guy from his Curb Records days in the late 1980s. I liked him then because he was a stone-country stylist. It turns out that he’s still active up in Kentucky, and he’s still a stone-country stylist. Producer Del Gray rounded up some of his hot pickin’ Little Texas buddies to back Josh on his comeback CD. On its title tune, he sings, “I’m just a blue-collar singer from the bluegrass state.” More power to ya, brother.

HANK WILLIAMS JR./Red, White & Pink Slip Blues
Writer: Mark Stephen Jones/Bud Tower; Producer: Doug Johnson & Hank Williams Jr.; Publisher: Harlan Howard/Mark Stephen Jones/Frog Street, BMI/ASCAP; Curb
—A song for our times. Hank wails the bluesy lines masterfully, going from a rumbling baritone to a shouted tenor range. The mill closed down. The repo man is after his truck. They’re going to take the house away. Trust me, you’ll feel every hurtin’ moment.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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