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country got soul agin 

burn baby burn

Satan is real, rebels take a stand, sin overdoses abound, and hopes of transcendental love evaporate with the bubbles in your beer:

hank III aka Shelton, spawn of Bocephus and grandson of country & western's greatest martyr, Hank Williams, has finally released his f-you to labelhead Mike Curb and all who would limit his aesthetic horizons: Straight to Hell (Curb). Sometimes a twangy crooner, otherwise a hellbilly shouter, Hank III explores his Dixie-fried Jekyll & Hyde sonic persona on this double disc from the git-go by splicing the Louvin Brothers' famed "Satan Is Real" with the snarling title track. Disc One goes on to demonstrate the ways Satan's got soul to the tune of silvery fiddles. "Smoke & Wine" makes me hope Shelton overcomes his dubious racial attitudes and pairs up with his era's other great Nashville rebel, Joi (reviewed last week); he certainly seems to be describing her as his ideal partner in good & evil on the track. Anyhow, I dig the logo of Ole Scratch picking guitar.

www.hank3.com.

Of course, hank III ain't got nothin' on Ole Possum, aka George Jones, when it comes to puttin' the "Dick in Dixie." Possum's epic self-destruction is fabled enough to not be repeated here. Best to focus on the musical highs of The Essential George Jones (Epic/Legacy), like opener "The Grand Tour" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

www.georgejones.com.

Permanently tanned Mississippi c&w icon Charley Pride, with his trad dulcet take on such Opry-primed tunes as tear-tastic "Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone" and (curious) "Kaw-linga," might stick in the craw of the iconoclastic III. But Pride is deservedly a legend, as the recent Anthology (RCA/Nashville) attests. Aspiring musicians in all genres would do well to recall Pride's early telegram to haters: "I'm not a black man singing white man music, I am an American singing American music. I worked out those problem years ago, and everybody else will have to work their way out of it too." Dig it: As a child of the 1970s with twang tendencies, Pride will always remain my favorite Negro First.

www.charleypride.com.

King Solomon Burke has got around the country-sangin' issue by hailing from Philly -- and doubtless from early patronage by Atlantic titan Jerry Wexler and current company kept with alt-country great Buddy Miller. Burke remains on his post-2002 revival upswing with the simply but emphatically titled Nashville (Shout! Factory). The thoroughly classic-leaning album features such high-points as the "Cry To Me" crooner duetting with Dolly Parton on her sublime "Tomorrow Is Forever" and the fiery Springsteen cover "Ain't Got You" co-starring Sam Bush on fiddle. Expect this to (deservedly) reap top year-end kudos. Me, I hope to see Burke's throne installed at the Opry. King Solomon's gospelized soul service is peerless.

www.thekingsolomonburke.com.

Johnny cash's recorded legacy came to a close last month, when American V: A Hundred Highways (American/Lost Highway) was released on Independence Day. The ethical quandary in producer Rick Rubin posthumously pairing arrangements with Cash vocal tracks recorded before his 2003 death have not stopped American V from being well-reviewed and highly ranked at www.amazon.com. As with previous Cash-Rubin collaborations, the disc's musical bed is mostly spare and unobtrusive; the voice is in the spotlight. Although palpably diminished here, the voice remains in the foreground, delivering fragility and heartbreak to moving purpose on the best song: opener "Help Me."

www.johnnycash.com.

Bonus track: Flying Under the Radar (CBUJ) is the Kentucky Headhunters' latest and aptly titled CD, a compilation of greatest hits, remixes and other material. Since its early success with Grammy award-winning Pickin' on Nashville, this southern rawkin‚ family band has not been suitably praised for its great blend of country, rock and soul. The Headhunters successfully walked the line between Southern and country-rock long before the current era of Music Row's infatuation with such hybrids. The band's previous well-titled sonic sortie, Soul, featured Eddie Hinton covers and Al Green paeans. Radar has danceable blues-rockers like "Take These Chains from My Heart." But the must-burn scorcher is track 7: the slow, sultry, yearning ballad "Too Much to Lose." Also: As added bonus, be sure to check out the release of band vet Greg Martin's gospel blues project with Jimmy Hall (of Wet Willie fame), the Mighty Jeremiahs.

www.kentuckyheadhunters.com

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