It was a true inspiration for producer Keith Stegall to match Kershaw and Lorrie Morgan on the duet that makes the title track of this album so striking and enjoyable. Kershaw's rugged voice blends perfectly with Morgan's smooth, sweet style on the romantic but bittersweet song. Stegall and Kershaw also showed good judgment on the rest of the album's 11 tracks. They cowrote the suitably peppy "Louisiana Hot Sauce" (few singers are as adept at up-tempo country tunes as Kershaw) and revived the Sonny Curtis-Jerry Allison tune "More Than I Can Say," a hit for Bobby Vee in 1961 and Leo Sayer nearly 20 years later. Lately the singer has been occupying himself with the Sammy Kershaw Foundation of Acadiana, which helps disadvantaged kids in his hometown of Kaplan, La. But he has obviously not been neglecting his singing career.
Bottom Line: Same old entertaining Sammy, with a nice new twist or two
Mandy Barnett (Sire)
Album of the week
Here is Nashville's next great female singer. This album, the last ever produced by country music's storied Owen Bradley—the man who once guided the recordings of Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells—puts Barnett's hearty, bluesy voice on full display. Longtime country fans might well be reminded of Cline and Lee (and even—thanks to Barnett's blend of sensuality and natural musicality—Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley). At 23, the native Tennessean shows that she is equally comfortable with swing music (the title tune), ballads and old standards ("With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming"). Bradley died of complications from the flu only four songs into this album, and his younger brother Harold, a veteran Nashville session guitarist, stepped in to complete its production. Barnett couldn't have asked for a better brother act to help in her breakout.
Bottom Line: Nashville finds its newest diva
The Cranberries (Island)
Sharp and tangy as any good, red acid berry should be, this Irish quartet, led by Limerick lass Dolores O'Riordan, managed to sell nearly 30 million albums of lush and dreamy pop music since making its debut in 1993. But after three albums in four years, the 'Berries suffered burnout and went their separate ways. Recently regrouped, brothers Mike (bass) and Noel Hogan (guitar), drummer Fergal Lawler and new mom O'Riordan now return with a fourth album so bland it sounds as if it was recorded in a Prozac haze. O'Riordan has a splendid voice, but here it's wasted on lame lyrics and sleepy arrangements. On tunes like "Saving Grace," she sounds like Alanis Morissette after anger therapy. And when O'Riordan scat-sings, she seems to produce something closer to a nursery school keen. A tune called "Loud and Clear" opens with a flourish fit for a quiz-show theme and morphs into a scary sing-song attack on an ex-boyfriend: "Hope you get a puncture .../ Hope the sun beats down on you and you skin yourself alive." Ouch.
Bottom Line: Dream pop group goes sleepwalking
Doc & Richard Watson (Sugar Hill)
With the accidental 1985 death of his constant companion, music partner and son, Merle, guitarist Doc Watson, American music's walking folk treasure, retreated to his Blue Ridge Mountains home in Deep Gap, N.C., before resuming his performing career. Last year the five-time Grammy winner teamed with Mac Wiseman and Del McCoury on Mac, Doc & Del
, an album of bluegrass tunes. Now, at 76, Doc has found a new and able pickin' partner in Merle's son Richard, 32. Here, the older Watson's rich baritone and renowned flat-pick guitar style appear undiminished by age, while Richard, appearing on his first album, complements his grandpa with playing that would make Merle proud. The pair render acoustic versions of folk tunes ("House of the Rising Sun," "If I Were a Carpenter"), blues ("Honey Please Don't Go") and gospel ("Precious Lord Take My Hand") in a style as crisp and clear as a mountain morning.
Bottom Line: Elegant and elemental, dear WatsonsEDEN Sarah Brightman (Angel)
The former Mrs. Andrew Lloyd Webber gives baroque-pop treatment to 15 tunes made for that style and to one that isn't (Kansas's "Dust in the Wind").
ALLIGATOR TALES Chief Jim Billie (Sound of America)
With an assist from Jennifer Warnes, Seminole vocalist James E. Billie Firedrum Bird-clan sings of the "Ways of the Glades."
IN DEEP Tina Arena (Epic)
Heavy-hitter producers Walter Afanasieff and Jim Steinman give oomph to Arena's emphatic love ballads on a CD bound for Adult Contemporary pay dirt.
When 26-year-old Allison Moorer
contends for the Academy of Country Music's Top New Female Vocalist award on May 5 in L.A., she shouldn't have any award-night jitters. At least nothing compared to what she faced in March when she appeared onstage at the Academy Awards—and onscreen before one billion worldwide television viewers—to perform her Oscar-nominated song from The Horse Whisperer
, "A Soft Place to Fall." "When I first saw the auditorium, I said, 'Shoot, this isn't big, I've done this a million times,' " Moorer recalls. "I just tried to tell myself, 'It's not on TV.' "
An Alabama native, Moorer followed her older sister, singer Shelby Lynne, to Nashville after graduating from college six years ago. Although she had only planned on doing background singing, song-writing partner (and now husband) Butch Primm encouraged her to launch a solo career, and her debut album, Alabama Song
, was released last fall to critical acclaim. Moorer lost her Oscar bid (to songwriter Stephen Schwartz and his Prince of Egypt
tune), but at least she has one less thing to worry about at this week's country music telecast. This time her performance was taped in advance.
- Ralph Novak,
- Steve Dougherty,
- Marisa Sandora.