Among collections I've recently received are a sampler of an American icon's oeuvre and never-released tunes from a 30-year-old twang documentary.
Since my stepdaughter has cystic fibrosis, I must consider Songs for Sixty-Five Roses -- Re-working the North Carolina Jukebox (Redeye; ***). Named for the way children pronounce "cystic fibrosis," this NC-centric CD spotlights once-and-future classic rock/country covers from the state's musical talent. It also benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The project came together in the aftermath of Triangle musician-producer John Plymale discovering his daughter was diagnosed with the disease.
Whiskeytown is represented with a performance by Caitlin Cary ("Battleground Park") and Portastatic's cover of Ryan Adams' "Oh My Sweet Carolina." Adams' labelmate Tift Merritt does standard country balladry on "It's the Shame." Hobex's Greg Humphreys drops fine western swing with "Bent Out of Shape," Plymale's own hybrid "Mister Flavor" intrigues and Will McFarlane ably takes on ultimate sensitive man James Taylor with disc closer "Shower the People." However, my favorite cut is dB's legend Chris Stamey's Big Star rip "Nothing Is Wrong," penned by his old dB's podnuh Peter Holsapple for an upcoming band reunion disc. Fresh-spun originals and the compassionate spirit imbuing the project make Sixty-Five Roses a must-buy mixtape. See: The alt-set can do good works, too.
Also keeping it country is the Heartworn Highways (Hacktone;****) soundtrack. Gathering songs and dialogue fragments literally lifted from the 1976 documentary by the late Jim Szalapski, the disc harks back to the era before the term alt-country was coined. In the shadow of overlapping folk-rock, Southern rock, outlaw country and country-rock movements, maverick singer-songwriters including Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, John Hiatt, Steve Young and a 19-year-old Steve Earle congregated in a supportive Austin, TX, scene. These future songwriting legends are paired with musicians leaning more toward the Southern rock end of the spectrum: Larry Jon Wilson (the film includes this south Georgia singer's great session for "Ohoopee River Bottomland"), the Charlie Daniels Band and David Allan Coe, who memorably performs at the Tennessee State Pen. Of all these songs -- including recording debuts by Earle, Hiatt and Crowell -- Young's spectral blues, "Alabama Highway," is most affecting. Yes, I-i-i've luuuved you Dixieland!/Wonder why you never give me a helping hand. That's dropping science.
From next door to Texas comes the New Orleans Social Club's Sing Me Back Home (Burgundy/Sony BMG;****). The South may never recover from the Crescent City's cultural and physical devastation, but this project fixes its vital aesthetic at a crucial time. Reaching out to Chicago for inspiration, Sing Me Back Home opens with an impassioned cover of Curtis Mayfield's "This Is My Country" starring Cyril Neville, continues with a Meters-ized "Fortunate Son" by bandleader Ivan Neville, and features other great moments from Henry Butler, Irma Thomas, John Boutté and Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews (nodding to Jimmy Castor).
New Orleans' most legendary son, Satchmo, is also remembered, with Louis Armstrong: The Definitive Collection (Hip-O/Verve;***1/2). "Satch," the jazz innovator and leader of the Hot Seven, is overlooked in favor of Armstrong, the American Treasure. So the CD (oddly) opens with "What a Wonderful World" and includes a duet with Bing Crosby.
Bringing us back over to this neck of the Southeast is Lynyrd Skynyrd's Family (Hip-O;**1/2). Family may gather Skynyrd's biggest hits alongside popular tracks from the group's extended kin -- Rossington-Collins Band, .38 Special, etc. -- for the first time, but few Southern boogie aficionados have need of yet another comp. Featured classics are what one would expect -- perennials "Gimme Three Steps" (my fave), "Sweet Home Alabama," "Saturday Night Special" -- just in time for car use en route to Skynyrd's big July date at the Verizon Amphitheatre.
Guilt rock alert: 80s Gold, discs 1 & 2 (UMe/Hip-O;****) is a fun, fun, fun stroll down memory lane ... mostly to the end of junior high, although a few later "classics" like Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative" and Paula Abdul's "Forever Your Girl" sneak in. Anyone who lacks room in their heart for Diana Ross' great swansong "Upside Down," Dexys Midnight Runners' Celtic classic "Come On Eileen," and INXS' finest sub-Mojo Risin' moment "Need You Tonight" is suspect to me.