DISClaimer: Blake Shelton Is At The Top Of His Game

coolI love country duets. There is just something so pleasing to my ears hearing two splendid voices singing in harmony with both parts mixed like lead vocals. No other musical format has anything like this. So it comes as no surprise that two of my favorite records in this listening session belonged to Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell and to Mark McKinney & Bri Bagwell. These are records that tell me that real country music is alive and well.

That said, I’d be a fool not to honor Blake Shelton with a Disc of the Day award. The man is at the top of his game.

Although the duo of McKinney & Bagwell is new, he has been in this column many times before as a solo. And none of the other newcomers knocked me out. So, alas, there is no DisCovery this week.

ANSON CARTER/All About the Music
Writer: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Rusted Truck Ranch  
—The track copies Waylon’s old Waylors sound and, sure enough, the lyric waxes nostalgic about the old “Outlaw” days. Then he veers off into praising Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen for not appearing on talk shows. Whatever. It rocks.

LONESTAR/Maybe Someday
Writer: Frank Myers/Dean Sams/Billy Montana/Richie McDonald; Producer: none listed; Publisher: Meleva/Last Song Standing/Clearbox Rights/Mike Curb/Dandon Ranch/NuSlate, BMI; 4Star
—The reunited Lonestar (Richie McDonald, Dean Sams, Keech Rainwater and Michael Britt) still sounds super great. This power ballad has a big, majestic sound that revels in regret and heartache. Hooks a-plenty.

THE CLAY WILSON BAND/Tomorrow
Writer: Clay Wilson; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed, BMI; CWB 
—Crisply produced, this has tasty electric guitar licks, throbbing rhythm, bopping energy, handclaps and a lead vocal that chews on the lyric with gusto. I’m totally digging it. These guys are batting a thousand in this column with their singles. Send an album!

BLAKE SHELTON/Sure Be Cool If You Did
Writer: Rodney Clawson/Jimmy Robbins/Chris Tompkins; Producer: Scott Hendricks; Publisher: Big Red Toe/Amarillo Sky/Big Loud Bucks/Big Loud Songs/Play Another/Extraordinary Alien, BMI/ASCAP; Warner Bros. 
—He’s swooning over her in a barroom. Best line: “You don’t have to shoot me down, ’cause you’ve already knocked me dead.” An echoey, mid-tempo, finger-snapping production perfectly frames his countryboy vocal performance.

KELLY PARKES/As Good As Me
Writer: Doug Bryson/Dee Briggs; Producer: Mike Borchetta, Darran Smith & Mark Lambert; Publisher: Cross Bayou/Songs South/Perleejo/Songscape/Lullabye Blue, ASCAP; Ocala 
—The track is full of energy, which contrasts with her somewhat languid, slightly pitchy vocal delivery. Intriguing, if not exactly flawless.

JAKE OWEN/Anywhere With You
Writer: Ben Hayslip/David Lee Murphy/Jimmy Yeary; Producer: Joey Moi & Rodney Clawson; Publisher: WB/Melissa’s Money/Get a Load of This/Old Desperados/N2D/Carol Vincent/EMI Blackwood/Beattyville/Great Day at This, ASCAP/BMI; RCA 
—Handsome Jake’s star-making album yields its fourth single. It is the collection’s lead-off track, an escape/road song with lots of wailing electric guitars and his customary vocal warmth.

JOSEY MILNER/Not Pretty Enough
Writer: Kasey Chambers; Producer: Micah Burdick & Matthew Russo; Publisher: Gibbon PTY, ASCAP; MTS 
—Ms. Milner’s bland interpretation of Aussie Americana star Kasey Chambers’ song drains all the blood and soul out of it.

EMMYLOU HARRIS & RODNEY CROWELL/Hanging Up My Heart
Writer: none listed; Producer: Brian Ahern; Publisher: none listed; Nonesuch  
Old Yellow Moon, the highly anticipated duets album by Emmylou and Rodney isn’t due until Feb. 5, but I couldn’t resist a sneak listen. This lead off track two-steps its way right across your heart with its jaunty vocals and clear, straightforward country production. A pre-order of the CD on Emmylou’s website gets you a free download of this charming number. Roger Miller’s “Invitation to the Blues” is also on the collection, as are Allen Reynolds’ “Dreaming My Dreams with You,” Matraca Berg’s “Back When We Were Beautiful” and several Rodney tunes. Every track is a glittering gem.

MARK McKINNEY & BRI BAGWELL/She Ain’t Leavin’
Writer: none listed; Producer: Eric McKinney & Mark McKinney; Publisher: none listed; MM 
—They’re broke, blue, overworked and disgusted. But they’ve got each other. Not to mention the best song of the listening session, and a rollicking, cool-as-brew production. Absolutely country and absolutely wonderful.

JOHN CORBETT/Steal Your Heart
Writer: Jon Randall/Gary Nicholson/Paul Overstreet; Producer: Gary Paczosa & Jon Randall Stewart; Publisher: Reynsong/Wha Ya Say/Sony-ATV Cross Keys/Gary Nicholson/Scarlet Moon, BMI/ASCAP; Funbone 
—From Sex and the City to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Corbett has long since proved himself as an actor. But don’t let that color your opinion of him as a music maker. He’s no moonlighting dilettante. He’s a real-deal country rocker. I loved his last CD, and Leaving Nothin’ Behind only fulfills its promise. This bluesy lead track romps splendidly. Of the collection’s 10 songs, Jon Randall Stewart co-wrote seven. He also co-produced. Corbett calls him “my favorite songwriter.” You can’t argue with the man’s taste.

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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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