All 10 of these records deserve to be heard. On top of that, four of them are from bona fide format superstars—Keith Urban, Sugarland, Brad Paisley and Tim McGraw—while two more are by consistent airplay favorites—Jason Michael Carroll and the Zac Brown Band. Toss in a couple of legends—Larry Gatlin and Ray Stevens—and endearing up-and-comer Blaine Larsen, and you’ve got a mighty full sonic platter.
And about that Disc of the Day prize? In an extremely competitive field, the inspirational Brad Paisley charges onto the turf and rides away with it.
KEITH URBAN/Only You Can Love Me This Way
Writer: Steve McEwen/John Reid; Producer: Dann Huff & Keith Urban; Publisher: EMI Blackwood/Birds with Ears/Sony-ATV, BMI/PRS; Capitol Nashville (track)
—There’s something very “California” sounding about this dreamy outing. The repeated acoustic guitar figure is enchanting, and the vocal harmonies are absolutely lovely. This is a sound to get lost in.
FAST RYDE/That Thang
Writer: James Harrison/Jody Stevens; Producer: Jeff Stevens, Jody Stevens & James Harrison; Publisher: OMG Songs Nashville/Jody Stevens/Songs of One Music Group/Mailbox Dance, BMI/SESAC; Republic Nashville
—This offspring of “Badonkadonk” bops along solidly. This time the riff is, “da dang dang, dang da doing doing doing” while the percussion thumps and the guitar grinds.
BRAD PAISLEY/Welcome To The Future
Writer: Brad Paisley/Chris DuBois; Producer: Frank Rogers; Publisher: none listed, ASCAP; Arista (track)
—Utterly joyous sounding. The steel playing is celestial. Brad’s guitar gets a fleet-fingered, mid-song workout. His singing of the upbeat tune makes you want to crank it up to “10.” Amid the celebration of the times we’re living in, there’s even a shout-out to racial progress. I’m just loving this total audio delight, because it rocks in every way. Also check out the more quietly personal lyric in the “reprise” version. In fact, check out the whole American Saturday Night CD. It has “Album of the Year” potential in every groove.
RAY STEVENS/If Ten Per Cent IS Good Enough For Jesus
Writer: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Clyde (www.raystevens.com)
—The second part of the title is “it ought to be enough for Uncle Sam.” That’s right, it’s a tax-protest tune. What’s more, it’s catchy.
ZAC BROWN BAND/Toes
Writer: Zac Brown/Wyatt Durrette/John Hopkins/Shawn Mullins; Producer: Keith Stegall & Zac Brown; Publisher: Weimerhound/Lil’ dub/Angelika/Brighter Shade/Bug/Roadie Odie, BMI; Home Grown/Big Picture/Atlantic (track)
—These guys are the most refreshing thing to happen to country music in years. As usual, the tune is soaked with groove. This time, it’s a Buffett-beach vibe. Summer’s vacation soundtrack is right here.
JASON MICHAEL CARROLL/Hurry Home
Writer: Zane Williams; Producer: Don Gehman; Publisher: Year of the Dog/Big Yellow Dog, ASCAP; Arista (track)
—JMC eases into a ballad mode this time around. He couldn’t have chosen a better song to do it with, because this is extremely well written. It is one of those perfectly constructed story songs that no one but a country-music person could write or sing. This is what we do best.
BLAINE LARSEN/It Did
Writer: Marv Green/Jim Collins; Producer: Jimmy Ritchey; Publisher: Warner-Tamerlane/Sycamore Canyon/Hope N Cal/Sexy Tractor, BMI; Treehouse (615-478-9056)
—This trajectory of a romance that just gets better and better goes down easy with Blaine’s confident, mature vocal presence. For lovers everywhere.
TIM McGRAW/It’s A Business Doing Pleasure With You
Writer: Brett James/Joey Moi/Chad Kroeger; Producer: Byron Gallimore, Tim McGraw & Darran Smith; Publisher: Stege Three/Brett James Cornelius/Moi Music Productions/Warner-Tamerlane/Anaesthectic, ASCAP/SOCAN/BMI; Curb
—“You’ve got more purses than Versace/Got more rings than Liberace.” There’s more: “Gucci” rhymes with “sushi.” And so forth. Hilarious? You bet.
LARRY GATLIN & THE GATLIN BROTHERS/Johnny Cash Is Dead
Writer: Larry Gatlin/Johnny Cash; Producer: Terry Choate; Publisher: Mike Curb/Mutual Attraction/Magnet/Barton Creek/Song of Cash/Bug, BMI/ASCAP; Curb (CDX)
—It has Johnny’s boom-chicka-boom rhythm and a lyric saluting country greats who have passed on—Chet, Waylon, Patsy and Marty—and mourning the lack of fiddles and steel guitars in today’s sound. All in all, extremely listenable.
Writer: Jennifer Nettles/Kristian Bush/Bill Anderson; Producer: Byron Gallimore, Kristian Bush & Jennifer Nettles; Publisher: Jennifer Nettles/EMI Blackwood/Dirkpit/Sony-ATV, ASCAP/BMI; Mercury (CDX)
—Joey is gone, and she pleads powerfully for forgiveness. The driving tempo and echoey production conjure up an atmosphere of crying in the wilderness. Get a load of that writing credit. Bill Anderson penned his first hit more than 50 years ago, and he’s still at it, stronger than ever. The man is a musical miracle.