GEORGE JONES & MERLE HAGGARD Kickin' Out The Footlights... Again (Bandit) Rating: NNNN
To mark the 25th anniversary of their studio summit A Taste Of Yesterday's Wine, country legends George Jones and Merle Haggard reunite to perform each other's tunes and croon a couple of duets to remind us all that even though their voices are rarely heard on commercial radio, they're still the two greatest country song stylists alive. Unbelievable as it might seem, despite all the pills, alcohol and car crashes, they don't sound any worse for the wear. In fact, I'd argue that both the 75-year-old Jones and 69-year-old Haggard are singing better now than they did on the Yesterday's Wine project, and it's a much-improved selection of tunes as well. A rare instance of the sequel improving on the original.
JIM LAUDERDALE Country Super Hits (Yep Roc) Rating: NNN; Bluegrass (Yep Roc) Rating: NNN
Now that the country charts are being ruled by the likes of Big & Rich, Rascal Flats and TV talent show also-rans, it's no wonder that confused traditional twangers don't know whether to pick up acoustic guitars and go back to their roots or join the crowd going pop. Evidently, singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale couldn't decide, so he simultaneously released pedal-steel-enhanced Country Super Hits and the unplugged Bluegrass album to keep his bases covered. Neither set is a radical departure for Lauderdale, whose clever though otherwise unremarkable heartsongs could've been used interchangeably on the two discs. The only real difference is that Country Super Hits is done up honky-tonk-style with a Bakersfield twist, while Bluegrass, as the title suggests, employs mandolin, fiddle and banjo. Between them both, he's got one solid album.